DEA move to reschedule cannabis represents progress, presents opportunities for industry and research

DEA move to reschedule cannabis represents progress, presents opportunities for industry and research


After more than half a century of complete federal prohibition, marijuana may finally be rescheduled.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made the decision to reclassify marijuana, according to initial reports from the Associated Press.

The move comes following a shift in public perception and support from federal sources.

The DEA has proposed to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), following guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This historic proposal, while not legalizing cannabis, would remove its equation with heroin, acknowledging potential for medical use.

The proposal, which aligns with the findings of a year-long HHS review, acknowledges marijuana’s accepted medical use in treatment across the United States and a lower abuse potential compared to Schedule I and II substances. Over 30,000 healthcare professionals are authorized to recommend medical marijuana in 43 U.S. jurisdictions for various conditions, impacting more than six million registered patients.

The change signifies major potential implications for marijuana research and legal businesses.

Moving cannabis to Schedule III could allow state-legal cannabis businesses to take federal tax deductions currently denied under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code 280E.

It would also reduce barriers for scientific research, as Schedule III drugs are subject to fewer restrictions than Schedule I substances.

The change, still pending a review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would not legalize recreational use but could significantly impact marijuana regulation and enforcement, especially for medical use. If approved, it will be opened to public comment before potentially being finalized.

This move comes after President Joe Biden in 2022 initiated a review of marijuana policies and pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of simple possession.

The move, in an election year, could bolster perception of Biden ahead of the November ballot.


The scheduling determination has drawn attention not only from healthcare and policy circles but also from political figures. Vice President Kamala Harris has notably pressured the DEA for a timely review. Additionally, a coalition of 21 congressional lawmakers has urged the DEA to remove marijuana from Schedule I swiftly, amid reported internal disagreements within the agency.

“With just over one year into recreational marijuana use being legalized in Missouri, the DEA’s rescheduling has the potential to make a sizable impact for early operators,” says BeLeaf Medical CEO, Kevin Riggs. “Federal laws impact cultural norms. Stigma surrounding marijuana is still prevalent, especially in more conservative states like Missouri. I hope change at a national level will open more minds to the healing potential of cannabis across a range of mental and physical health issues. Additionally, once the punitive 280e tax burden is removed, we will likely see better pricing for our customers which is a win for everyone.”

This potential DEA action reflects the growing acceptance of marijuana, with 38 states having legalized it for medical use and 24 for recreational purposes. Despite these changes at the state level, federal law has not yet adapted, leading to a complex patchwork of regulations.

Last month, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra defended the rescheduling recommendation during a Senate committee hearing.

The DEA and the Justice Department have not commented on the scheduling determination, and the White House has not yet issued a statement.

While rescheduling cannabis is a significant sign of progress, it doesn’t stop the push for full legalization.

Last week, 21 Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, New York, sent a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram and Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the removal of marijuana from the controlled substances list and for cannabis to instead be regulated similarly to alcohol.

“Right now, the Administration has the opportunity to resolve more than 50 years of failed, racially discriminatory marijuana policy,” the letter reads.

Dan Viets, JD, Chair of the national Board of NORML said, “This is a small step in the  right direction but marijuana, like alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, should be removed completely from the drug schedules.”

“This historic announcement is the culmination of years of advocacy by Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and other advocacy groups to push the federal government to better reflect the public’s view on cannabis. While the move is undoubtedly a step forward for the movement, it does not meet LPP’s goal to fully remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and its associated criminal penalties,” Last Prisoner Project said in a statement. “Last Prisoner Project believes that complete descheduling is a necessary step towards correcting past injustices and creating a fair and equitable criminal legal system. We will continue to leverage the momentum achieved from our advocacy to ensure that individuals burdened with past cannabis convictions have their records expunged and all cannabis prisoners are released, regardless of the federal scheduling decision,” wrote Sarah Gersten, Executive Director and Legal Counsel for LPP.