Justice Department poised to post plans for marijuana reclassification

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The Department of Justice plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on Thursday that would reclassify marijuana to a less restrictive category, according to two Biden administration officials familiar with the decision.

This is the next step in the rescheduling process begun by President Joe Biden in October 2022 that is set to be the largest shift in federal drug policy in decades.

It follows a recommendation by the Department of Health and Human Services in August to reclassify marijuana, which currently is a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances Act — the most severe classification, the same as heroin. The DOJ decision to reclassify would move cannabis to Schedule III — a category that means it's determined to have both medical benefits and some potential for abuse. It's the same category as ketamine.

The change reflects seismic changes in cannabis policy across the country. Over the last 12 years, 24 states legalized marijuana possession for adults, and 38 states established medical marijuana programs. More than half of Americans now live in states where marijuana is recreationally legal at the state level.

The DOJ declined to comment on the plans to release guidance, which was first reported by POLITICO.

Once posted in the federal registry, the proposed rule to reclassify will undergo a 60-day public comment period.

Moving marijuana to Schedule III will make it easier to research, something that scientists and public health officials have wanted for years. It also will move state-legal marijuana businesses out from under section 280E of the federal tax code, which prohibits them from writing off most basic business expenses and makes it exceedingly difficult to turn a profit. Reclassification, however, will not change federal criminal law regarding marijuana.