Marijuana descheduling is an issue the government has focused on for quite some time. Now Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram has committed to asking the Department of Health and Human Services for a timeline for the review of the scheduling status. This article will provide the latest updates.
Marijuana Descheduling Efforts
Marijuana descheduling efforts are led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn). They demanded information on the DEA’s plans to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 during a House Judiciary hearing last week.
Administrator Anne Milgram testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance informing members that she has “not been given a specific timeline” on a review of the plant’s classification.
History Behind Marijuana Descheduling Efforts
Marijuana descheduling efforts have been ongoing. In October 2022, President Biden released a marijuana reform statement asking the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the attorney general to reevaluate marijuana scheduling.
The DEA must receive the HHS review before it can conduct an evaluation process and determine a scheduling decision.
Gaetz was disappointed to learn the DEA never received any HHS materials.
“That’s unsettling, isn’t it? When you don’t even know a timeline, it doesn’t make it seem like something’s front of mind,” Gaetz told Milgram at the hearing.
Cohen supported Gaetz in creating a rare bipartisan House agreement.
The democratic representative also called the process of marijuana regulation “governmental gibberish” saying “The government has messed this up forever.”
The Current State of Marijuana Scheduling
Drug scheduling is used by the DEA to determine a drug’s potential to be addictive or medically helpful. Marijuana is currently categorized as a Schedule 1 drug alongside LSD, heroin, and ecstasy. In these regards, it is considered one of the world’s most dangerous drugs.
Removing it from Schedule I would eliminate the threat of federal intrusion in state marijuana programs. It would also remove remaining stigmas.
There is also potential to reduce the drug to a lower schedule. But officials are calling for complete marijuana descheduling. They feel that if marijuana is rescheduled as opposed to descheduled, contradictions would continue between federal and state governments.
Gaetz also pointed out that keeping marijuana at its status promotes the opioid epidemic and accidental opioid overdoses.
Marijuana has been shown to relieve pain making it a suitable opioid alternative. If people can’t access medical marijuana, they will continue to use opioids increasing the risk of dependency and accidental overdose.
Ironically, fentanyl is not classified as a Schedule 1 substance. Some fentanyl-related substances were moved to Schedule I in 2018, but fentanyl remains a Schedule II drug due to its medical value.
Milgram, Cohen, and Gaetz are committed to marijuana descheduling.
“What I will say to you, not specific to marijuana, but just overall, is that I am committed to trying to move things as quickly as we can,” Milgram said in response to Cohen asking if there was anything that could be done to speed up the process.
Cohen responded by saying he was going to help her out by calling his former colleague, the HHS secretary, later that day.
“I hope we get this done. We’re two years into the Biden Administration and I honestly hoped by now we would have already descheduled marijuana from the Schedule I list,” Gaetz added.
What Will Marijuana Descheduling Require?
Marijuana descheduling is a long and complex process. The DEA must first request a scientific and medical evaluation from the secretary of the HHS. The secretary must also provide recommendations on whether they feel marijuana should be removed as a controlled substance.
They must also delegate the FDA the authority to prepare a scientific and medical evaluation that evaluates scientific evidence on marijuana’s effects, health risks, potential for abuse and dependence, and other scientific knowledge of the substance.
The secretary must also provide the DEA with recommendations on marijuana’s appropriate schedule in writing. The recommendation must be submitted in a reasonable timeframe which could mean years. If the secretary recommends that the drug be scheduled, the DEA cannot schedule it.
If the DEA decides that marijuana be rescheduled or descheduled, proceedings must be initiated for its control or removal under a formal hearing process overseen by the Administrative Procedures Act.
Other Rescheduling Efforts
Rescheduling marijuana is not an easy feat. It could take years before the process is finalized. To get an idea of the timeline involved, you may look at other rescheduling efforts such as the one to reclassify hydrocodone combination products from Schedule III to Schedule II.
The FDA took four years to complete its medical and scientific evaluation. The organization determined that HCPs remain classified as Schedule II, but the FDA requested that it re-evaluate its recommendation. The FDA finally recommended HCPs be scheduled at Schedule II in 2013, but it did not become official until 2014, a decade after the rescheduling petition was first filed.
The lengthy timeline involved in HCP rescheduling is not always an issue. For example, the reclassification of Marinol, a drug that treats weight loss in AIDS patients, was petitioned to be rescheduled from Schedule II to Schedule III. The rescheduling request was submitted to the HHS secretary in 1997, it was completed in 1998, and the drug was officially reclassified in 1999.
So we see great divergences in the rescheduling/descheduling process. It can take anywhere from 2 to ten years, or it could be even longer. But without government agencies committing to a marijuana descheduling timeline, we have a long road ahead of us.
For many people, it can’t happen soon enough.