HomePoliticsJustice Department takes 'major step' toward marijuana rescheduling

Justice Department takes ‘major step’ toward marijuana rescheduling

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department took a major step toward reclassifying marijuana Thursday, formalizing the process to reclassify the drug as a lower-risk substance and removing it from a category in which it is considered more dangerous is treated than fentanyl and meth.

President Joe Biden announced the “big” move in a direct-to-camera video posted to his official account on X. “This is monumental,” Biden said in the message. “It is an important step toward reversing long-standing inequality. … Far too many lives have been turned upside down because of a botched approach to marijuana, and I am committed to righting these wrongs. You have my word on it.”

The Biden administration has indicated it would move to reschedule the drug from Schedule I — a strict classification that includes drugs like heroin — to the less strict Schedule III, which would for the first time extend the drug’s medical benefits at the federal level acknowledge. The Drug Enforcement Administration filed a notice of proposed rulemaking with the Federal Register on Thursday afternoon, creating a 60-day comment period for members of the public to submit comments on the rescheduling proposal before it is finalized.

Biden first ordered federal agencies to review marijuana planning in October 2022, weeks before that year’s midterm elections. The process was led by the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services.

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“Look folks, no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana. Period,” Biden said in Thursday’s video, the third time he has spoken at length on the subject since his directive two years ago.

The second time Biden raised the issue was during this year’s State of the Union address, where he made history by referencing marijuana from the podium in the House chamber. “No one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana,” he said at the time.

Vice President Kamala Harris also released a video Thursday hailing the progress.

“Currently, marijuana is classified at the same level as heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl. We are finally changing that,” Harris said. “We are on our way to making it happen.”

During the first 30 days of the comment period, interested parties could request a hearing on the rezoning proposal. By law, the DEA would have to hold a hearing before an administrative law judge.

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After the DEA reviews and considers public comments, and at the conclusion of any requested hearing, the DEA will issue a final order to reschedule marijuana. (The DEA could refuse to reschedule the drug, but that’s unlikely given strong government support).

The entire process can take anywhere from a few months to a year.

Once completed, federal scientists will be able to research and study the drug’s potential medical benefits for the first time since the Controlled Substances Act in 1971. It could also open the door for pharmaceutical companies to get involved in sales and distribution. of medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

For the $34 billion cannabis industry, this move would also remove significant tax burdens on companies in states where the drug is legal, most notably by removing it from Section 280E of the IRS code, which prohibits legal cannabis companies from deducting what would otherwise be normal operating costs.

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Joe Biden walks in the garden (Demetrius Freeman / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Joe Biden walks in the garden (Demetrius Freeman / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Justice Department’s redistricting decision could also help shrink the black market, which has flourished despite legalization in states like New York and California, and has undermined legal markets, which are highly regulated and heavily taxed.

During his time in office, Biden granted pardons for previous federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana and issued a proclamation granting additional pardons for simple possession, attempted simple possession and use of the drug.

The White House has also urged governors to do the same in their states, and some have heeded the call, including in Oregon and Massachusetts.

Democrats in Congress are leading a partisan effort to completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to create their own cannabis laws and prioritize restorative and economic justice for those affected by the “war on drugs.”

“Congress must do everything we can to end federal prohibition on cannabis and address the long-standing harm caused by the War on Drugs,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer , earlier this month.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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