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Republican Senators Express Concerns Over Marijuana Rescheduling, Cite Conflict with International Treaties

Updated: Mar 31

Three Republican senators, including Utah's Mitt Romney, have formally objected to a proposal to alter the classification of marijuana under U.S. federal law, appealing directly to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Presently, marijuana is categorized as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), indicating it is believed to have no recognized medical benefits and a high likelihood of abuse.

In their communication to DEA Chief Anne Milgram, Senators Mitt Romney, Jim Risch of Idaho, and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska—all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—voiced their apprehension regarding a recommendation from the Biden administration to reclassify marijuana within the CSA's scheduling system.

This reaction follows the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) August 2023 suggestion to downgrade marijuana to Schedule III, which includes drugs considered to have a lesser degree of dependency risk, such as certain prescription painkillers and ketamine. The senators stressed the importance of basing any rescheduling decisions on solid scientific evidence and respecting the United States' international treaty commitments.

They emphasized the potential conflict between reclassifying cannabis and adhering to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a global treaty established in 1961 and ratified by the U.S. Senate six years later. This treaty obligates signatory countries, including the U.S., to maintain strict controls over drugs like marijuana. The senators highlighted previous DEA assessments that keeping marijuana in Schedule I or II was necessary to comply with these international obligations.

The senators also raised concerns about the broader implications of rescheduling cannabis, questioning whether it could influence other nations' adherence to drug control treaties, especially regarding substances as dangerous as fentanyl. They have requested additional information from the DEA, including whether rescheduling cannabis could impact international treaty compliance, and sought responses to their inquiries by April 12.

Their letter also references studies indicating health risks associated with marijuana use, including increased risks of heart attacks, strokes, and mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Senator Romney further elaborated on these concerns through a social media post, cautioning against rescheduling efforts not grounded in scientific evidence and the potential treaty violations such actions might entail.

In contrast, legal experts like Jason Adelstone from the Vicente LLP law firm argue that reclassifying cannabis to Schedule III would not breach international treaties and would in fact align with the treaty's provisions for medical and scientific access to controlled substances. He criticized the senators' letter for perpetuating misconceptions about marijuana, highlighting the need for policies informed by current scientific and medical understanding.

As the DEA reviews the HHS proposal, the outcome and its implications for both domestic and international drug policy remain a closely watched issue.


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