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Reclassifying Marijuana: What You Need to Know


On May 16, 2024, a significant step was taken in the ongoing discussion surrounding marijuana laws in the United States. The Justice Department officially submitted a proposed rulemaking to the Federal Register, aiming to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug. The proposal suggests moving marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Such a change could have profound implications for legal frameworks, criminal justice, and the medical community.

Here's what you need to know about this development.

The Classification of Controlled Substances

Controlled substances in the United States are classified into various schedules under the CSA. This categorization system is critical in shaping these substances' legal and medical handling.

The controlled substance schedules are based on a combination of factors:

  • Potential for abuse. This refers to the likelihood that someone will misuse the substance to get high.
  • Accepted medical use. This considers whether the substance has legitimate or safe applications under medical supervision.
  • Potential for physical or psychological dependence. This assesses the risk of developing a physical or psychological reliance on the substance.

Drugs and other substances classified as Schedule I are considered the most dangerous. This group is characterized by a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

In contrast, Schedule III substances are regarded as having a lower potential for abuse than Schedule I and II drugs. These substances are currently accepted for medical treatment in the United States. Abuse of Schedule III drugs may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.

Marijuana’s Current Classification and the Impact of Rescheduling

Marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I drug since 1970 when Congress enacted the CSA. This classification has been a point of contention for many, as some argue it doesn't reflect the growing body of research on marijuana's potential medical benefits.

The proposed move to reclassify marijuana to Schedule III would not legalize its recreational use but would potentially ease some regulatory controls. While manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, and possessing marijuana would still invoke federal criminal charges, the rescheduling reflects a shift in understanding its medical and therapeutic potential and may reduce the penalties associated with its handling under federal law.

The Rulemaking Process for Rescheduling

The push to reclassify marijuana gained momentum when President Joe Biden, on October 6, 2022, directed the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.

The Department of Justice's proposal initiates a formal rulemaking process overseen by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The process involves several steps, including:

  • Public notice. The DEA announces the proposed rule change and allows for public comment.
  • Opportunity for comment. Individuals and organizations can submit written comments expressing their support or opposition to the proposal.
  • Administrative hearing. The DEA may hold a hearing to gather additional information and expert testimony.

After considering public input and expert opinions, the DEA will make a final decision on marijuana's scheduling. It's important to note that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug throughout this review process.

The Ever-Changing Criminal Justice Landscape

The landscape of criminal justice, particularly drug regulation, is constantly evolving. Understanding these changes and their implications on state and federal laws is crucial for anyone involved in legal matters related to controlled substances.

At Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake, we stay informed about these significant shifts to provide our clients with accurate and effective representation.

If you are facing legal issues related to drug laws or other criminal matters in Howard County, it is vital to have knowledgeable and up-to-date legal counsel. Contact us at (410) 927-5137 to schedule a consultation.