Here We Go Again: Marijuana Rescheduling Not Guaranteed

Medical marijuana supporters were thrilled when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) came out last year with a recommendation to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III. They were even more thrilled when the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to it. But hold on. Rescheduling still is not guaranteed.

While the DOJ wrote the rescheduling proposal and implemented the required period for public comment, the DEA has the final say. And according to rumors circulating in Washington, not all the most important decision makers and the DEA are on board with rescheduling.

There has apparently been some pushback in recent weeks. It has been enough to cause people to question whether rescheduling is a done deal. In Washington, nothing is done until regulations are actually published in the Federal Register. So at this point, we simply watch and wait.

What Rescheduling Means

It is important to note that the plan now circulating in Washington will not legalize marijuana across the board. Rescheduling simply moves it from the most restricted category of controlled substances to a less restrictive one. Rescheduling will not give federal approval to recreational consumption.

Rescheduling simply recognizes that there may be medicinal value to marijuana. It would allow the states to administer their medical cannabis programs without fear of federal retribution. Rescheduling would also make it easier for researchers to obtain medical cannabis for their studies.

Nothing Will Change at the State Level

If the DEA follows through on the rescheduling plan, nothing will change at the state level. Those states with both recreational and medical programs will continue operating them as they do now. States with medical only programs will do likewise. The only real question is whether the federal government will step in and try to influence state medical marijuana regulations.

Consider the local medical cannabis pharmacy. In Utah, there are only fifteen such establishments. All have been licensed by the state to dispense medical cannabis to patients with valid state-issued cards. Retail outlets like Cedar City’s Zion Medicinal do not need any federal approval to do what they do.

On the other hand, traditional pharmacies are required to obtain federal licenses for certain types of activities – like selling controlled substances. Marijuana would be considered a controlled substance even under rescheduling. So the question everyone is asking is whether or not Zion Medicinal and its counterparts across the country would need to obtain a federal license.

The Drive to Deschedule

Of course, there are those lawmakers in Washington hoping to avoid a messy situation by completely descheduling marijuana. Senator Chuck Schumer recently introduced the latest Senate bill intended to do just that. But like all the similar bills before it, this one is unlikely to pass a divided Senate.

Descheduling marijuana would make it legal for any use. It would put marijuana on the same plane as alcohol. Federal regulators would likely continue exercising control over interstate distribution and logistics while states would regulate how marijuana is packaged and sold within their borders.

Congress has been trying to deschedule marijuana for quite some time now. They have not succeeded. In light of that, rescheduling is looked at as a possible steppingstone to the broader goal. Will that goal ever be reached? Time will eventually tell.

In the meantime, the rescheduling ball sits clearly in the DEA’s court. They will have a decision to make when the public comment period ends later this year. My intuition tells me they will ultimately reschedule in line with the HHS recommendation. After all, this is an election year.

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