Federal Marijuana Reclassification Is on the Horizon

american flag with cannabis leaves instead of stars
The recommendation by the FDA and HHS to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III substance marks a pivotal shift in federal drug policy, acknowledging its medical benefits and potential for lower abuse. This move, backed by significant scientific evidence and a formal endorsement from HHS, could significantly lower research barriers and transform the legal and medical landscape of cannabis in the United States. As the DEA considers this recommendation, a new era of research, medical therapy, and broader societal acceptance of marijuana seems on the horizon, promising substantial changes in how cannabis is perceived and utilized.
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The winds of change are blowing through the corridors of federal drug policy, signaling a potential reclassification of marijuana that could reshape its legal and medical landscape in the United States. This seismic shift, driven by recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), marks a departure from decades of stringent control and opens the door to unprecedented research and therapeutic opportunities.

What is the FDA’s Stance on Marijuana?

In a bold move reflecting a growing recognition of marijuana’s medicinal benefits, the FDA has recommended reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule III substance. This recommendation is grounded in a thorough evaluation of marijuana’s abuse potential compared to other drugs in the same category and its acknowledged medical uses in the United States. Transitioning to a Schedule III classification, which includes drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence, would significantly lower the barriers for research and development in the field.

The HHS Recommends Reclassifying Marijuana

The initiative for reclassification gained momentum in 2022 after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Attorney General reviewed marijuana’s scheduling under federal law. This resulted in a pivotal letter from the HHS to the DEA that officially advocated for marijuana’s reclassification to Schedule III. The FDA’s support was noted within this review, with the Assistant Secretary of Health writing:

“Upon consideration of the eight factors determinative of control of a substance under 21 U.S.C. 811(c), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that marijuana be placed in Schedule III of the CSA. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has reviewed the enclosed documents (which were prepared by FDA’s Controlled Substance Staff and are the basis for FDA’s recommendation) and concurs with FDA’s recommendation. Marijuana meets the findings for control in Schedule III set forth in 21 U.S.C. 812(b)(3).”

While the report itself was published on August 23, 2023, the un-redacted version didn’t reach the public until January 12, 2024. Regardless, this endorsement from one of the nation’s top health agencies underscores the federal government’s shifting perspective on marijuana and its potential benefits.

Scientific Evidence Leads the Way

The FDA’s recommendation for reclassification is supported by compelling scientific evidence highlighting marijuana’s lower risk of abuse and its therapeutic potential. Research findings point to marijuana’s efficacy in treating conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and many others. Additionally, marijuana withdrawal is characterized as mild, especially when compared to substances like alcohol, which can lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms. It has also been scientifically shown to act as an exit drug – contrary to its popular, infamous label as a gateway drug.

What Happens If Marijuana is Reclassified?

Reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule III drug would not only facilitate more robust research into its medical uses but also significantly impact the cannabis industry at large. It would ease banking restrictions for cannabis-related businesses and modify tax codes that currently hinder their financial operations. This change reflects a broader movement toward legalizing cannabis for both medical and recreational use across various states, aligning federal policies more closely with state laws and public opinion​.

Who Decides Whether or not Marijuana Is Reclassified?

As the DEA holds the final say in the reclassification process, a period of public commentary will precede any official changes. This inclusive approach ensures that the perspectives of healthcare professionals, researchers, and the general public are considered, marking a critical step toward a more evidence-based and compassionate drug policy.

The recommendation to reclassify marijuana heralds a significant shift in the United States’ drug policy, one that recognizes the plant’s medical potential and aligns federal regulations with scientific understanding and societal attitudes. As the process unfolds, it carries the promise of opening new avenues for research, therapy, and industry growth, setting a precedent for future drug policy reform.

Updated: March 27, 2024

Article Written By:

McKenzie Lewis

McKenzie Lewis has been a member of the CannaMD marketing team since 2018. Prior to joining CannaMD, she attended the University of Central Florida where she received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in psychology. When it comes to cannabis research, she is especially interested in the application of marijuana as a treatment method for insomnia.


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