Biden administration plans to ease marijuana restrictions

April 30, 2024

The Biden administration is moving forward with plans to move marijuana off the most severe classification of Schedule I to Schedule III, a source familiar with the decision confirmed to The Hill Tuesday.

Rescheduling marijuana is distinct from descheduling it entirely, which some advocacy groups and lawmakers have called for, as it could still lead to legal action against those found to be in possession of it in states where the drug is not legal.

The Department of Justice declined to comment when reached by The Hill.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will need to sign off on the proposal and it will be open to public comment. The final rule would need to be approved by OMB and be published before it can be implemented. This process could take several months.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said the move would bring the U.S. one step closer to ending the “failed war on drugs.”

“Marijuana was scheduled more than 50 years ago based on stigma, not science. The American people have made clear in state after state that cannabis legalization is inevitable,” Blumenauer said. “The Biden-Harris Administration is listening.”

This decision could also give President Biden a boost among younger voters. Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster and strategist who serves as president of Lake Research Partners, previously told The Hill that action on marijuana scheduling would signal that Biden is a “modern president.”

Public opinion leans strongly in favor of marijuana legalization, with a Gallup poll from November finding that a record 70 percent said they were in favor of it. A group of Democratic senators issued a letter to the DEA last week calling for marijuana to be descheduled entirely.

Schedule III drugs are considered to have a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Substances within this category include ketamine, anabolic steroids and testosterone.

While campaigning in 2020, Biden had vowed to decriminalize marijuana if elected. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) on Monday reiterated its stance that rescheduling marijuana does not go far enough in terms of marijuana reform.

“Supporting federal marijuana decriminalization means supporting the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, not changing its scheduling,” Cat Packer, director of drug markets and legal regulation for the DPA, said in a statement.

Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said he was “underwhelmed by the progress made during President Biden’s administration.”

“I think it was fair to expect more,” Schweich said. “It was absurd to consider cannabis to be more dangerous than heroin, as is the case today. It will remain absurd to consider cannabis to be more dangerous than alcohol, Xanax, and Valium, which will still be the case after this rescheduling takes effect.” 

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, noted that rescheduling would still put adult and medical use of marijuana in “conflict with federal regulations.”

“Just as it is intellectually dishonest and impractical to categorize cannabis in the same placement as heroin, it is equally disingenuous and unfeasible to treat cannabis in the same manner as anabolic steroids and ketamine,” he said.

Brett Samuels contributed. 

Updated April 30 at 3:07 p.m.