U.S. health agency advises easing federal marijuana restrictions

Pot Dispensary
(Image credit: David McNew / Getty Images)

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Wednesday that federal health officials had delivered "a scheduling recommendation for marijuana" to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Senate Democrats confirmed that HHS's advice was to ease up. President Biden had asked HHS to review marijuana's legal classification last October, at the same time he pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of "simple possession" of the drug.

Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, like heroin and LSD. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said HHS urged the DEA to make it a Schedule III drug, the same tier as ketamine and some anabolic steroids. "HHS has done the right thing," Schumer said. "DEA should now follow through on this important step to greatly reduce the harm caused by draconian marijuana laws." The DEA's review of the proposed policy change could take months.

Rescheduling marijuana "would reduce or potentially eliminate criminal penalties for possession," The Associated Press explained. It wouldn't legalize the drug but it would make it easier to research the health benefits and drawbacks of cannabis, and it would remove many federal hurdles for selling the drug in the 23 states that have legalized recreational use and the 38 states where marijuana is legal for medicinal use, The Washington Post added.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

"We believe that rescheduling to Schedule III will mark the most significant federal cannabis reform in modern history," said Edward Conklin of the U.S. Cannabis Council. "President Biden is effectively declaring an end to Nixon's failed war on cannabis and placing the nation on a trajectory to end prohibition." Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) agreed that making marijuana a Schedule III drug is "is not inconsequential," but he urged Congress to deschedule it altogether.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.