Biden administration moves to reclassify marijuana, opens public comment period

Biden administration moves to reclassify marijuana, opens public comment period


President Joe Biden’s administration has initiated a significant shift in federal marijuana policy, proposing to reclassify the drug as a lower-risk substance. The announcement, which Biden deemed “monumental,” opens the door for public comment and marks a pivotal step toward changing longstanding federal regulations.

“Today, my administration took a major step to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug,” Biden said in a video posted to social media. “It’s an important move towards reversing longstanding inequities.”

This is the first time Biden has publicly addressed the proposed rescheduling since the Justice Department recommended in April that marijuana be downgraded to Schedule III. This classification, which includes prescription drugs such as ketamine and Tylenol with codeine, signifies a recognition of the drug’s medical benefits and a lower potential for abuse.

The proposal follows the Biden administration’s efforts to pardon federal marijuana offenders and encourage state governors to take similar actions. The Justice Department’s formal step, published in the Federal Register, initiates a 60-day public comment period. Afterward, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will review the comments, and an administrative law judge may be assigned to consider evidence before a final scheduling determination is made by the Justice Department.

“Today’s announcement builds on the work we’ve already done to pardon a record number of federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana,” Biden said. “Look folks: No one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana. Period.”

Reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I, where it has been grouped with drugs like heroin and ecstasy, to Schedule III, would represent a historic shift. Schedule I drugs are considered to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, whereas Schedule III drugs are recognized for their medical benefits and lower abuse potential.


Biden’s administration sees this move as a necessary correction to a drug policy that has disproportionately affected marginalized communities. Vice President Kamala Harris also expressed support, noting the absurdity of marijuana’s current classification. “We are finally changing that,” Harris said in a video statement. “We are on the road to getting it done.”

The proposed reclassification has garnered support from various sectors, including the cannabis industry and advocates for criminal justice reform. Edward Conklin, executive director of the U.S. Cannabis Council, called it a “necessary and critical step” toward federal legalization.

However, the move is not without its critics. Some former federal law enforcement officials and anti-cannabis groups, oppose the reclassification, arguing it normalizes a drug they believe to be harmful.

Despite the controversy, Biden remains steadfast in his commitment to reform. “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs,” he said.

The reclassification process, which began with an October 2022 directive from Biden, involves scientific analysis and recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services. The Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged credible scientific support for some medical uses of marijuana, which influenced the rescheduling proposal.

If finalized, the reclassification could significantly impact the $34 billion cannabis industry by reducing tax burdens and fostering research into marijuana’s medical benefits. It could also help shrink the black market by aligning federal policy more closely with state regulations.

While the reclassification is a step forward, legal experts caution that it may have limited effects on the criminalization of marijuana, as most prosecutions occur at the state level. Nonetheless, the Biden administration’s actions signal a critical shift in federal drug policy, with potential long-term implications for marijuana regulation and criminal justice reform in the United States.