Major Federal Policy Update — Biden Administration Recommends Rescheduling Cannabis

Aug 30, 2023

Department of Health and Human Services, descheduling, Federal, rescheduling

Major Federal Policy Update — Biden Administration Recommends Rescheduling Cannabis

In August 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formally recommended rescheduling cannabis. In a letter sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), HHS provided findings from their review of marijuana’s scheduling status and recommended rescheduling marijuana to a Schedule III controlled substance. 

This historic development from the top federal health agency is an encouraging step forward. Rescheduling cannabis would provide many real-world benefits, including facilitating research and reducing burdens on medical cannabis patients, providers, and the businesses that serve them. 

Given that over half the U.S. population lives in states with medical cannabis programs, and millions of Americans are finding relief through cannabis products, it is long past due for the federal government to acknowledge cannabis’ medical value. 

While MPP still supports the full descheduling of cannabis, we recognize that the Biden administration’s rescheduling proposal offers the potential for a significant improvement in federal cannabis policy. As always, MPP adheres to a philosophy of incremental progress.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 placed all illicit and prescription drugs into five "schedules" (categories). Cannabis was placed in Schedule I, which is defined as having a high potential for abuse, having no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and lacking accepted safety standards for use under medical supervision.

That definition did not apply to cannabis in 1970 and certainly does not apply today. 

Even before the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis had already been prohibited for more than three decades in our country. Interestingly, prior to 1937, there were at least 27 medicines containing cannabis that were legally available in the United States. Many were made by well-known pharmaceutical firms that still exist today, such as Eli Lilly. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 federally prohibited cannabis and set the United States on a course of waging an unjust and failed war on cannabis that lasted nearly a century. 

Next Steps
The DEA is expected to make the final decision on whether federal law will finally acknowledge the reality that cannabis has medical value sometime in 2024. We encourage you to sign up for MPP email alerts and stay informed on the latest developments.