What rescheduling marijuana would look like

April 30, 2024

The Biden administration will soon propose reclassifying marijuana from the most severe Schedule I to Schedule III.  

There are numerous steps left in the process to move from a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposal to final policy, but the move would represent a major shift in federal drug policy. It would mark the first time the U.S. would recognize there are some potential benefits to marijuana and allow them to be studied.  

Marijuana has been designated as a Schedule I drug since 1970, on par with methamphetamines and more severe than fentanyl. That means it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value. 

The move could also give a political boost to President Biden among young, progressive voters who have been supportive of easing marijuana policies.  

If the proposal is accepted by the White House and eventually finalized, here’s what it could mean: 

Easier to research  

Moving marijuana away from Schedule I would make it much easier to research.  

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. 

Since Schedule I drugs have no medical value, there is no easy way to conduct clinical research.  

Until recently, there was also only one facility licensed to grow marijuana for domestic research, and the federal government has historically been incredibly slow to approve additional applications.  

Tax breaks for industry 

Marijuana legalization has led to a booming industry that still finds itself fighting for recognition on the federal level. Reclassifying marijuana would be an incredibly industry-friendly move. 

Under the federal tax code, companies that sell Schedule I or II drugs can’t deduct expenses that other businesses can write off, resulting in a substantially higher tax rate for marijuana growers and sellers and making it hard to earn a profit.  

The industry recorded roughly $35 billion in sales in 2023. Classifying marijuana as a Schedule III drug would likely mean significant industry growth. 

Not legalized 

Reclassifying cannabis as a Schedule III substance would not make it legal. It would still be a federal crime to possess or sell the drug, contrary to most states that allow either medical or adult recreational use. 

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said rescheduling marijuana won’t bridge that growing divide. Nationwide, 38 states have legalized medical marijuana while 24 have approved it for recreational use. 

“[E]xisting state legalization laws — both adult use and medical — will continue to be in conflict with federal regulations, thereby perpetuating the existing divide between state and federal marijuana policies,” Armentano said.