12 Senators Demand the DEA Fully Legalize Cannabis As Well As Answers on the Rescheduling Issue

12 Senators Demand the DEA Fully Legalize Cannabis As Well As Answers on the Rescheduling Issue

The group sent a letter to the law enforcement agency on Monday denouncing the failed prohibition policy and requesting immediate action on rescheduling the plant and legalization.



While many people are still struggling to maintain their resolutions for the new year, several members of the U.S. Senate have not forgotten their promise to advance the issue of full federal cannabis legalization in 2024. With adult-use marijuana now legal in almost half of the states, there is mounting pressure on elected officials, policymakers, and law enforcement agencies to finally and forever remove the debilitating shackles of prohibition and make marijuana legal nationwide.


To that end, a group of predominantly Democratic senators has begun the new legislative session with an incendiary message to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency—legalize cannabis now.


According to numerous media outlets, 12 senators, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and several other advocates of radical marijuana reform, sent a letter to the DEA criticizing the “devastating impact” and “out of step” policy of prohibition, demanding that cannabis be removed entirely from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).


Part of their message to the DEA states that doing so would present a “rare opportunity to shape the new cannabis industry from the ground up, designing a federal regulatory system untainted by the corporate capture that has influenced alcohol and tobacco regulations, and advancing federal cannabis reforms that acknowledge and repair the harms of cannabis criminalization.”


The letter comes after a series of moves by the White House to improve the status of marijuana and past marijuana offenders last year, including pardons and a review of the plant by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which led to the HHSâ€recommendation of rescheduling cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III narcotic on the CSA. 


In their letter, the group does acknowledge the progress made by the Biden Administration. However, the senators also categorically reject the notion that a simple rescheduling move is sufficient to address the glaring need for full legalization. 


“While rescheduling to Schedule III would mark a significant step forward, it would not resolve the worst harms of the current system. Thus, the DEA should deschedule marijuana altogether,” the senators’ letter says. 


"While rescheduling to Schedule III would mark a significant step forward, it would not resolve the worst harms of the current system. Thus, the DEA should deschedule marijuana altogether."

- Letter from 12 U.S. Senators to the DEA Concerning Marijuana Legalization


The process of incremental rescheduling would provide tangible gains for cannabis reform advocates, including the elimination of research barriers for scientists, enabling federal employees to become medical marijuana patients, and allowing state-licensed marijuana companies to take federal tax deductions, which are currently banned under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.


Yet, for many lawmakers, those changes are like applying a band-aid to a third-degree burn. Congress and local governments cannot adequately address the most harmful and societally damaging elements created by prohibition with a mere scheduling change. According to the group, the sheer number of lives catastrophically altered by the outdated and inane prohibition policy requires a dramatic and radical reversal in policy and law.


“However, rescheduling would do little to rectify the most severe harms of the current system. Many of the CSA’s criminal penalties for marijuana will continue as long as marijuana remains in the CSA because those penalties are based on the quantity of marijuana involved, not the drug’s schedule status. Thus, criminal penalties (including prison sentences, fines, and asset forfeiture) for recreational marijuana use, and medical use of marijuana products that lack federal approval, would still exist, disproportionately penalizing Black and Brown communities,” the letter says.


"However, rescheduling would do little to rectify the most severe harms of the current system. Many of the CSA’s criminal penalties for marijuana will continue as long as marijuana remains in the CSA because those penalties are based on the quantity of marijuana involved, not the drug’s schedule status."

- Letter from 12 U.S. Senators to the DEA Concerning Marijuana Legalization


Despite the calls for legalization over rescheduling, the senators also took the time to chastise the DEA for not approving the scheduling recommendation by HHS by now, saying the agency should not be basing its decision on an outmoded interpretation of American international treaty obligations. The UN has already rescheduled marijuana and is allowing member states such as Canada to legalize medical and adult-use cannabis. 


The senators conclude the letter by saying:


“The DEA has never kept a drug in Schedule I after HHS recommended removing it, and it must not do so now. It is imperative that the DEA remove marijuana from Schedule I, as several members of Congress and state attorneys general have urged. The DEA should do so promptly; its past record of taking years to resolve rescheduling petitions should not be repeated here. 


Furthermore, the DEA and HHS should be fully transparent about the evidence relied upon in the course of their review processes. The Biden Administration has a window of opportunity to deschedule marijuana that has not existed in decades and should reach the right conclusion—consistent with the clear scientific and public health rationale for removing marijuana from Schedule I and with the imperative of relieving the burden of current federal marijuana policy on ordinary people and small businesses.”


"The DEA has never kept a drug in Schedule I after HHS recommended removing it, and it must not do so now. It is imperative that the DEA remove marijuana from Schedule I, as several members of Congress and state attorneys general have urged. The DEA should do so promptly; its past record of taking years to resolve rescheduling petitions should not be repeated here."

- Letter from 12 U.S. Senators to the DEA Concerning Marijuana Legalization


Other signatories on the letter include Sens. 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).


As with most public and loud political displays like the one mounted by these senators, the intended outcome is more window dressing than actual tangible results. However, it is worth noting that this is the first time these specific high-profile senators, particularly Sen. Schumer (D-NY), have come out in aggressive and open support of full federal legalization. Despite their dismissal of incrementalism via rescheduling, this letter and the actions requested are the definitions of positive and gradual change. 


Hopefully, the DEA will receive the message and, at least, approve the rescheduling move. Otherwise, it’s just more noise from the cheap seats and business as usual by an increasingly incompetent Congress and White House.