Congressional Researchers Outline Marijuana Options For Lawmakers

Congressional Researchers Outline Marijuana Options For Lawmakers

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Following President Biden's directive to investigate re-scheduling cannabis, Congressional Researchers lay out potential alternatives.



The day following President Joe Biden's mass pardon for Americans convicted of federal marijuana possession offenses and order for a full review of cannabis scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Congressional Research Services released a report explaining the consequences of marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug and the options available to Congress to change those circumstances.


The report explains that (under the CSA) Schedule I drugs are "considered the most dangerous and addictive," with no established medicinal value. As such, cannabis is in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD.


The report goes on to say the CSA also "prohibits the manufacture, distribution, dispensation, and possession of Schedule I substances except for federal government-approved research studies. The Schedule I status of marijuana means that federal authorities strictly regulate the substance."


Marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug has been in place for decades, but that has not discouraged states from legalizing the plant for medicinal and recreational purposes. Currently, 19 states have legal adult-use cannabis, and 38 have medical marijuana programs.


Nevertheless, the federal ban on marijuana casts a large cloud of uncertainty over many states considering enacting reform. Likewise, its Schedule I status also significantly restricts potential research, which is reason enough to reevaluate its scheduling, according to scientists like National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow.


Prior to Biden's directive, The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) received and denied multiple requests to initiate a scheduling review for cannabis, according to the CRS report. However, a presidential mandate carries considerably more weight. To that end, the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have pledged to initiate a prompt scientific review.


Such an examination could end up placing marijuana in a lower tier or potentially removing it from the schedule altogether, essentially legalizing the plant at the federal level.


The CRS report goes on to detail the specific problems related to the ongoing policy gap between the federal ban and legislation legalizing some form of marijuana at the state level. It also provides specific options available to Congress to address the issue.


The report says, "The disconnect has impacted how financial institutions may provide banking services to marijuana-related businesses and how the Schedule I status has reportedly created difficulty for researchers who seek to study marijuana."


"The disconnect has impacted how financial institutions may provide banking services to marijuana-related businesses and how the Schedule I status has reportedly created difficulty for researchers who seek to study marijuana."

- Congressional Research Services Report on Marijuana Scheduling


The conflict between federal and state policies on cannabis also has far-reaching and damaging consequences for citizens legally purchasing and using marijuana in states where it is legal.


The report cites, "In addition, individuals in violation of federal marijuana laws, even when they are using marijuana consistent with state laws, can be potentially subject to consequences affecting their eligibility for housing and food assistance, gun ownership, visas, and employment."


While the President's actions have been lauded by former critics and advocates for full federal legalization of marijuana, many believe he could have gone much further. However, the Administration is not the only arm of the government capable of impacting cannabis policy. As the CRS points out, Congress has several avenues to change the plant's current status.


Here are the options for Congress, according to CRS:


1. Amend the CSA to move marijuana to a less restrictive schedule.


2. Create an entirely new schedule or another category for marijuana altogether.


3. Remove it entirely from the CSA.


In the report, the CRS concludes, "If marijuana remains a controlled substance under the CSA under any schedule, that (will) maintain the existing conflict between the federal government and states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Moving marijuana to a less restrictive schedule could help mitigate conflicts between federal and state medical marijuana laws. The creation of a new schedule solely for marijuana would give Congress an opportunity to modify the criminality of marijuana under the CSA. Congress (could also choose) to remove marijuana from the CSA entirely, (allowing it to) seek to regulate and tax commercial marijuana activities."


"If marijuana remains a controlled substance under the CSA under any schedule, that (will) maintain the existing conflict between the federal government and states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Moving marijuana to a less restrictive schedule could help mitigate conflicts between federal and state medical marijuana laws. The creation of a new schedule solely for marijuana would give Congress an opportunity to modify the criminality of marijuana under the CSA. Congress (could also choose) to remove marijuana from the CSA entirely, (allowing it to) seek to regulate and tax commercial marijuana activities."

- Congressional Research Services Report on Marijuana Scheduling


Presently, despite President Biden's mostly window-dressing action to pardon all individuals convicted of federal cannabis possession charges (no individuals convicted of simple possession are currently incarcerated) and a call to re-examine marijuana's scheduling classification under the CSA, not much has actually changed for truly affecting federal law.


However, with a series of polls demonstrating that a majority of Americans approve of the President's actions and believe that marijuana should not be a Schedule I drug, the cascading momentum for cannabis to, at the very least, be re-scheduled and eventually removed entirely from the CSA seems more and more an inevitability.


Election Day draws closer and closer, and with it, the calls from every corner of the union grow louder and louder for America's long and unwarranted war against marijuana to finally come to an end. Make your voice heard. Get out and VOTE!