A group of twelve senators has recently urged the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to not only fully legalize cannabis but also to provide detailed responses regarding the agency's review of cannabis scheduling. This request was made through a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.
The communication, spearheaded by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), supported by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and others advocating for marijuana reform, sharply criticizes the ongoing prohibition of cannabis. They argue that this approach is both devastating and outdated, and stress the need to entirely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The senators envision this move as a chance to build a new cannabis industry, one that is free from the influence that has shaped alcohol and tobacco regulations. This would also allow for rectifying the negative impacts of cannabis criminalization. Following a scientific evaluation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended reclassifying cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III in the CSA, recognizing its therapeutic potential and lower risk compared to other substances in more lenient schedules. However, the final decision rests with the DEA, which is not obligated to follow HHS’s advice.
The senators emphasize that while reclassifying cannabis to Schedule III would be a positive development, it would not address the most severe issues of the current system. The letter, first reported by NBC News, argues for complete descheduling of cannabis, noting that rescheduling could improve research opportunities and federal employment for medical cannabis users, and allow state-licensed cannabis businesses to claim federal tax deductions. Yet, it wouldn’t fully address the ongoing criminal penalties linked to cannabis under the CSA.
The letter also points out the disproportionate impact of current cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities. The senators argue for a complete descheduling, which would allow cannabis to be regulated similarly to alcohol and tobacco. They also request that the DEA not rely on outdated interpretations of international treaty obligations, citing the UN's recent rescheduling of cannabis and the legalization efforts in member states like Canada.
Concluding their letter, the senators call for prompt action from the DEA and transparency from both the DEA and HHS in their review processes. They stress the unique opportunity for the Biden Administration to deschedule cannabis, in line with scientific and public health reasons, as well as to alleviate the burdens of current federal marijuana policy.
Other senators who signed the letter include Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Peter Welch (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Alex Padilla (D-CA). The senators also included six specific questions about the DEA's scheduling review process, seeking responses by February 12.
Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has indicated ongoing communication with the DEA, providing information for the agency's final decision. Despite this, the DEA maintains that it holds the final authority in this matter.
The article further discusses various viewpoints and pressures faced by the DEA, including letters from both advocates and opponents of rescheduling, recent state governors’ requests to the Biden administration, and a poll indicating potential impacts on the consumer market and President Biden’s political standing. The piece also references President Biden’s past actions regarding marijuana policy, including a mass pardon and a scheduling directive, highlighting the complexity and multifaceted nature of this ongoing policy debate.