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Is Rescheduling Cannabis The Right Move?

While the question of whether or not to federally legalize marijuana persists in Washington, some lawmakers call to reschedule cannabis as a first step.

To legalize or not to legalize. That has become one of the most hotly debated questions on Capitol Hill concerning the much-maligned and potentially lucrative cannabis plant. Since the states of Colorado and Washington first legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, every election cycle has seen the addition of more and more states to the growing list of legal safe havens for Americans seeking access to adult-use cannabis.


However, the issue of whether to make marijuana legal at the federal level is now the battleground where advocates for the end of prohibition have aimed their collective political energies. Numerous recent polls have demonstrated that most Americans support some form of legalization at the federal level. This past November, the Pew Research Center found that over 88% of those surveyed said that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use (59%) or medical use only (30%).


Likewise, this past April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the first-ever bill legalizing cannabis nationwide, eliminating all criminal penalties for those involved in the manufacture, distribution and possession of marijuana. Lawmakers passed the measure in a 220-204 vote. Unfortunately, the bill did not make it out of the Senate. However, politicians on both sides of the political aisle are hopeful that 2023 could be the year when cannabis finally breaks free from over a century of prohibition.


One Republican congressman has opted for a more incremental approach to attacking the daunting task of full-scale legalization. As first reported by Marijuana Moment, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) refiled the “Marijuana 1-to-3 Act” to move marijuana from a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to the less restrictive Schedule III classification.


This refiling action is his third attempt at getting the measure passed in as many sessions. The two-page bill simply and directly states that “the Attorney General of the United States shall, by order not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this section, transfer marijuana…from schedule I of such Act to schedule III of such Act.”


More zealous and hardcore legalization advocates want cannabis removed from the CSA altogether. However, Steube sees his bill as a more pragmatic and feasible interim move. By getting marijuana rescheduled from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III narcotic, lawmakers would enable researchers to study the plant and its components.


Steube echoed the importance of this step in a 2019 interview when he said, “As marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations. By rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.”


"As marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations. By rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.”

- Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL)


One of the major roadblocks confronting lawmakers in passing a statute to legalize cannabis at the federal level is having the necessary scientific data backing the long-term safety and viability of marijuana consumption by humans. By passing Steube’s proposed legislation, lawmakers would be removing that barrier.


Other effects provided by rescheduling include:

  • Protecting federal employees who use marijuana from an arcane Reagan-era order defining illegal narcotics as either Schedule I or II substances.

  • Allowing cannabis companies to deduct business expenses from their taxes.

  • Making it legal to mail publications containing marijuana advertisements.

For his part, President Biden has made it clear that he supports both rescheduling and cannabis research. To that end, he signed a marijuana research bill last month and, in doing so, enacted the first piece of standalone federal marijuana reform legislation in American history. In addition, he also issued a mass pardon last year for those incarcerated for marijuana possession charges.


Of course, the significant and unspoken motivation behind all of this activity is the multiple billions of dollars at stake as America’s rapidly expanding recreational cannabis industry enters its second decade of existence. Growing pains caused by overproduction, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, mergers and acquisitions, and the persistent black market still challenge industry stakeholders and consumers.


However, a serious look at rescheduling could do very little harm at this point, and it could prove to be a positive and fruitful stepping stone toward full legalization nationwide.


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