What reclassifying marijuana means for Americans

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is moving toward reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. The Justice Department proposal would recognize the medical uses of cannabis, but wouldn’t legalize it for recreational use.

The proposal would move marijuana from the “Schedule I” group to the less tightly regulated “Schedule III.”

So what does that mean, and what are the implications?

What has actually changed? What happens next?

Technically, nothing yet. The proposal must be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and then undergo a public-comment period and review from an administrative judge, a potentially lengthy process.

Still, the switch is considered “paradigm-shifting, and it’s very exciting,” Vince Sliwoski, a Portland, Oregon-based cannabis and psychedelics attorney who runs well-known legal blogs on those topics, told The Associated Press when the federal Health and Human Services Department recommended the change.

“I can’t emphasize enough how big of news it is,” he said.

It came after President Joe Biden asked both HHS and the attorney general, who oversees the DEA, last year to review how marijuana was classified. Schedule I put it on par, legally, with heroin, LSD, quaaludes and ecstasy, among others.

Biden, a Democrat, supports legalizing medical marijuana for use “where appropriate, consistent with medical and scientific evidence,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday. “That is why it is important for this independent review to go through.”

If marijuana gets reclassified, would it legalize recreational cannabis nationwide?

No. Schedule III drugs — which include ketamine, anabolic steroids and some acetaminophen-codeine combinations — are still controlled substances.

They’re subject to various rules that allow for some medical uses, and for federal criminal prosecution of anyone who traffics in the drugs without permission.

No changes are expected to the medical marijuana programs now licensed in 38 states or the legal recreational cannabis markets in 23 states, but it’s unlikely they would meet the federal production, record-keeping, prescribing and other requirements for Schedule III drugs.

There haven’t been many federal prosecutions for simply possessing marijuana in recent years, even under marijuana’s current Schedule I status, but the reclassification wouldn’t have an immediate impact on people already in the criminal justice system.

“Put simple, this move from Schedule I to Schedule III is not getting people out of jail,” said David Culver, senior vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Cannabis Council.

But rescheduling in itself would have some impact, particularly on research and marijuana business taxes.

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