HHS Has Spoken on Marijuana – What Happens Next?
Nearly a year after President Joe Biden directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take a closer look at the possibility of relaxing federal restrictions on marijuana, the agency has finally spoken. It formally recommends that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) soften its stance. So what happens next?
Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. That means regulators believe it has no medicinal value and a high potential for addiction. As long as it remains part of Schedule I, states with legal cannabis programs are essentially thumbing their noses at Washington and the DEA.
The ball is now in the DEA’s court. They can either accept the HHS recommendation or reject it. Choosing the latter would mean nothing changes. Choosing the former could mean either rescheduling marijuana to Schedule II or III, or completely decriminalizing it by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act altogether.
Why Rescheduling Is More Likely
From this layman’s perspective, rescheduling seems the most likely option. There is little political appetite for continuing to maintain the status quo. We already have a minimum of 40 states that have legalized marijuana in some shape or form. Washington cannot continue to turn a blind eye, but it also can’t afford to turn the clock back.
Complete decriminalization is also unlikely in light of the fact that there are still too many politicians skeptical of making marijuana legal. That may change at some point down the road, but for now, it seems the best way to implement the HHS recommendation is to do so with a rescheduling compromise.
Moving to Schedule III
Some people who have watched this issue more closely than I have suggested that moving marijuana to Schedule III solves everyone’s problems. First, it will allow the FDA to formally approve medical cannabis as a treatment for certain medical conditions. A move to Schedule III would also:
- Eliminate most of the conflicts between federal and state laws.
- Free up the banking industry to provide service to the cannabis industry.
- Allow cannabis-based businesses to write off their business expenses.
- Make medical cannabis research easier and more productive.
In all likelihood, rescheduling marijuana to Schedule III would trigger Congress to enact legislation allowing Washington the ability to regulate marijuana production and sales similar to how it currently regulates alcohol.
It Could Help the Legal Cannabis Industry
A move to Schedule I could help the legal cannabis industry in a number of ways. Utah Marijuana, a medical group that helps Utah residents obtain medical cannabis cards, says it will immediately provide banking relief to industry currently held hostage to a cash-only business model.
In addition, allowing cannabis businesses to write off their business expenses like any other company would save them a ton of money. They can be more competitive with their pricing as a result.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of all would be the ability to transport marijuana across state lines. It opens the door to multistate corporations taking over the legal cannabis industry within a few years’ time. That wouldn’t be so good for smaller operations, but it would most certainly be the end of the illegal cannabis trade.
HHS has spoken in response to the president’s request that it reevaluate federal restrictions on marijuana. Now that its official proclamation has been issued, all eyes are on the DEA. Which way will the agency go? No one knows for sure. But if I were a betting man, I would say that marijuana will be rescheduled before the year is out.