The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has asserted its ultimate authority in determining the scheduling of cannabis, regardless of the recommendations made by the U.S. Health and Human Services. Michael Miller, the DEA acting chief of the Office of Congressional Affairs, communicated this stance in a letter addressed to Representative Earl Blumenauer, cochair of the Congressional Marijuana Caucus.
The scheduling review process, initiated by President Joseph Biden in October 2022, commenced with a scientific assessment from the HHS. The assessment purportedly advised the DEA to reclassify cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). After HHS provided its recommendation in August, the DEA proceeded with its independent review.
The DEA’s response was prompted by an earlier letter from 31 bipartisan legislators, led by Blumenauer, urging the DEA to consider the merits of legalization during the review. The lawmakers expressed concern about the limitations of placing marijuana in Schedule III rather than completely removing it from CSA control. They emphasized the urgency of full descheduling and criticized the outdated scheduling of cannabis, which they deemed incongruent with the public’s sentiment.
In its reply, the DEA refrained from addressing the lawmakers’ arguments and focused on the procedural details of the scheduling review. The timeline for completing the review remains undisclosed, though speculation suggests a conclusion before the November election.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) suggested that, based on past precedent, the DEA would likely follow HHS’s recommendation. However, the DEA reiterated its final jurisdiction over the CSA, retaining the authority to disregard HHS advice.
Despite the controversy surrounding the rescheduling review, little is known about HHS’s justification for recommending Schedule III. The agency submitted extensive documents to the DEA, but those documents have been released in highly redacted form, offering scant insight into the health agency’s findings on medical benefits, addictive potential or other policy aspects.
The DEA has received input from various stakeholders, including 29 former U.S. attorneys, urging the preservation of Schedule I. Six governors and former DEA heads voiced opposition to HHS’s recommendation, highlighting the complexity of the marijuana policy debate.
Lawmakers and advocates supporting marijuana reform marked the one-year anniversary of Biden’s cannabis pardon and scheduling directive by urging further action. Two GOP senators introduced legislation to prevent federal agencies from rescheduling cannabis without congressional approval.
Simultaneously, a coalition of 14 GOP legislators urged the DEA to reject HHS’s recommendation and maintain the strictest categorization for cannabis under the CSA.
Actors in the marijuana space, such as Aurora Cannabis Inc. (NASDAQ: ACB) (TSX: ACB), are eagerly waiting for the decision that the DEA will make on cannabis classification under the CSA.
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