Reclassifying marijuana is an issue that has been debated in legislative branches for years. This week, the Department of Health and Human Services recommended that marijuana be reclassified so it is no longer a Schedule 1 drug. If the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agrees, it will become a Schedule III drug.

But what impact will that have on the industry and the world?

Reclassifying Marijuana: Schedule 1 vs. Schedule III

Marijuana is currently a Schedule I drug. It is in the same category as heroin and LSD. Drugs in this category are said to show no medical value and a high potential for abuse.

If marijuana is reclassified as a Schedule III drug, it will fall into a category with ketamine, testosterone, and anabolic steroids. These are prescription drugs that have a low to moderate potential for physical and psychological dependence.

Although the drug may be reclassified, it would not be federally legal. Federal legalization is another matter under consideration.

What Kind of Impact Will Reclassifying Marijuana Have?

Reclassifying marijuana will have a positive impact on many community groups. Here are some changes to consider.

Veterans: Veterans have pushed for marijuana declassification for years. If the drug is reclassified, they will have better access to a treatment that can potentially help with common symptoms like depression, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder. “This is huge, this is what we have been working towards for years,” said Nick Etten, founder of the Veterans Cannabis Project nonprofit.

Front view of bearded american military veteran holding flag in arms. Portrait of old proud male officer in camouflage uniform posing in dark atmosphere. Concept of military, patriotism.

Struggling Companies: Reclassifying marijuana would help cannabis companies that are currently struggling. It will allow them to deduct rent, payroll, and other expenses on their taxes- a deduction rule not available to companies that “traffic” Schedule I or Schedule II drugs. It will increase their acceptance in the business world so they can better compete against illegal competitors.

Researchers: Reclassifying marijuana will open the door for research opportunities. It will remove barriers and allow scientists to learn more about the drug.  

Doctors and Patients: Currently, doctors are permitted to recommend marijuana, but not prescribe it. They are only permitted to prescribe FDA-approved drugs. If marijuana becomes FDA-approved, doctors will be permitted to prescribe it. It will be more accessible to patients.

Investors: Reclassifying marijuana is good news to investors. The HHS recommendation caused stocks to rise for five major cannabis companies that trade on the Canadian stock market. And when investors make money, companies make money.

History of Reclassifying Marijuana

Lawmaking bodies have considered marijuana reclassification in the past, but efforts have failed. The Obama administration’s DEA denied a reclassifying marijuana request from two Democratic governors. The DEA argued that the drug had no medical value, a high abuse potential, and lacked an acceptable level of safety for use.

But experts feel the winds have changed.

The recent HHS reclassification recommendation went public nearly a year after President Biden asked the agency to consider reclassifying marijuana. Biden’s request was a presidential first.

There is growing support for marijuana among political bodies thanks to the increased legalization in various United States.

Washington D.C. attorney, Shane Pennington, who specializes in cannabis law, believes the HHS recommendation will heavily sway the DEA’s decision. Meanwhile, the DEA has acknowledged receiving the recommendation but has not elaborated on a decision to move forward. The person who acknowledged receipt was not authorized to speak on the issue.

“Historically, the DEA has never overridden an HHS recommendation,” said Pennington.

Some are Critical

Some experts feel the HHS recommendation will help move reclassification forward. But not everyone is convinced.

The deputy director of the pro-legalization organization NORML feels the DEA may refuse to reclassify marijuana. He feels the DEA may take the same stance as it did in 2016 citing international drug treaty obligations.

“It will be very interesting to see how the DEA responds to this recommendation given the agency’s historic opposition to any potential change in cannabis categorization under federal law,” he said in a statement.

Vanderbilt Law School Professor Robert Mikos, who specializes in drug policy, cited the enormity of reclassifying marijuana. “It’s a big deal. That would be the first time the federal government has concluded that,” he said.

The Reclassification Process

The reclassification process is long and arduous. It begins with the Food and Drug Administration conducting an “eight-factor analysis” which considers the drug’s medical and scientific properties. It reviews its history of abuse, its potential for abuse, and its medicinal value.

When the FDA review is completed, it is sent to the HHS. The HHS uses the review as a basis to make a recommendation to the DEA. The DEA then conducts a deeper analysis.

Will the FDA Interfere with Cannabis Businesses if Cannabis is Reclassified?

Reclassifying marijuana is good news for cannabis businesses. But some may be concerned that the FDA will take too much of a hands-on approach. The organization may enforce restrictions that impact how businesses run.

But legal experts and officials say businesses won’t have much to worry about. They believe the FDA will continue to take a hands-off approach.

“The FDA has a lot on its plate. They don’t have the resources to add more,” said the director of the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy John Hudak. “I’m not concerned as chief cannabis regulator, that the FDA is going to turn my regulatory program, or markets in my state, upside down.”

“The FDA has chosen, under three different administrations- Obama, Trump, and Biden- to not take enforcement action,” said Howard Sklamburg, attorney at Arnold & Porter Law and a former FDA official overseeing cannabis policy. Now, the agency “is saying there is less of a health risk than they thought before.”

Reclassifying marijuana will allow cannabis businesses and investors to see bigger profits. It will increase access for people who use marijuana for medical reasons. It will open doors for advanced research.

Hopefully, legislation will move forward in the right direction.