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Cannabis Rescheduling Confirmed: DOJ Initiates Formal Rulemaking Process As Biden Makes it Official

President Joe Biden has officially confirmed that cannabis is set to be rescheduled from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule III.

This ‘tectonic shift’ in policy has been widely expected since April 30 when reports from the Associated Press suggested that sources within the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confirmed they would support the move, with later confirmation coming from the Justice Department.

While the White House has refused to engage with questions on the topic ever since, statements from Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre have now confirmed beyond any doubt that the process of reclassification will be moving forward.

This was shortly followed by an announcement from the Department of Justice (DOJ) that Attorney General, Merrick Garland, has now initiated the ‘formal rulemaking process’.

Both the proposed new rules and an official legal opinion from the Office of Legal Council (OCL) have now been submitted to the Federal Register, kicking off a 60-day public comment period.

Notably, the draft rules suggests that the DEA, which has historically been responsible for the determination of drug schedules under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), ‘had not yet made a determination as to its views on the appropriate schedule of marijuana’, suggesting the Justice Department may have moved despite the DEA.

It also made it clear that until the final rule is published, ‘marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance’, cautioning that there are still hurdles to overcome.

While the process, which will involve publishing a proposed final rule following the 60-day comment period and subsequent review, usually takes years, some have suggested Biden may have moved to streamline the process to ensure a decision is made before the election in November.

Although the news once again boosted cannabis stocks across the US and Canada, the markets reaction was more muted than previous announcements.

According to ATB Capital Markets Life Sciences analyst, Frederico Gomes, this is likely due to the continued disconnect between the DEA and DOJ.

He noted a number of remaining uncertainties surrounding rescheduling, including the fact that the ‘DEA did not make its own determination of re-scheduling’ and the process did not follow the framework adopted by the administration, potentially increasing the chance of judicial challenges.

Furthermore, questions remain around compliance with international treaties, and risks around the timing of implementation.

However, other key voices within the industry reacted positively to the news, with the Director of the US Cannabis Council, Edward Conklin, stating: “ Moving cannabis down to Schedule III would signal a tectonic shift away from the failed policies of the last 50 years.

“Cannabis never belonged on Schedule I. Thanks to President Biden and his administration, the federal government will soon turn the page on prohibition and set the stage for further reforms.

“The proposed rule implements the recommendations of the Department of Health and Human Services, following an extensive scientific review by the Food and Drug Administration. It also happens to be overwhelmingly popular with the American public.”

Bryan Barash, Co-Chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform (CCSR) and VP at leading cannabis technology company Dutchie, added: “It’s official, the Biden administration has taken a historic step toward ending reefer madness and bringing commonsense to federal cannabis policy.

“We are thrilled to see a proposed rule from the DEA that will move cannabis to Schedule 3. This is a huge victory for everyone who has worked to normalize federal cannabis policy and begins the process of federal support for state cannabis markets. Most importantly, for the first time, the federal government recognizes the overwhelming evidence of the clear medical benefits of cannabis.” –

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