Marijuana will be rescheduled as less dangerous drug: Sources

The Biden administration will take a historic step toward easing federal restrictions on cannabis, with plans to reclassify the drug for the first time since the Controlled Substances Act was enacted more than 50 years ago, sources with The Associated Press confirmed Tuesday. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to approve an opinion by the Department of Health and Human Services that marijuana should be reclassified as a less dangerous drug

The DEA’s proposal, which still must be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would recognize the medical uses of cannabis and acknowledge it has less potential for abuse than some of the nation’s most dangerous drugs. However, it would not legalize marijuana outright for recreational use.

The agency’s move, was confirmed to the AP on Tuesday by five people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive regulatory review. 


File: A cannabis plant grows in the Amsterdam Cannabis College. (Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Once the proposal is signed off, the DEA will take public comment on the plan to move marijuana from its current classification as a Schedule I drug, which is alongside heroin and LSD, and move the drug to a Schedule III, alongside ketamine and some anabolic steroids.

After the public comment period and a review by an administrative judge, the agency would eventually publish the final rule.

"Today, the Attorney General circulated a proposal to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III," Justice Department director of public affairs Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement. "Once published by the Federal Register, it will initiate a formal rulemaking process as prescribed by Congress in the Controlled Substances Act."

Previously, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent hundreds of pages of data on marijuana to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in its recommendation. In it, scientists said it’s less addictive and less prone to abuse than heroin, LSD, quaaludes, ecstasy and other drugs in the same class as marijuana.

Cannabis remains controversial topic

Some critics argue the DEA shouldn’t change course on marijuana, saying rescheduling isn’t necessary and could lead to harmful side effects.

Jack Riley, a former deputy administrator of the DEA, said he had concerns about the proposed change because he thinks marijuana remains a possible "gateway drug," and one that may lead to the use of other drugs.

"But in terms of us getting clear to use our resources to combat other major drugs, that’s a positive," Riley said, noting that fentanyl alone accounts for more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. a year.

On the other end of the spectrum, others argue marijuana should be treated the way alcohol is.

Last week, 21 Democrats led by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York sent a letter to Garland and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram arguing marijuana should be dropped from the controlled substances list and instead regulated like alcohol.

"It is time for the DEA to act," the lawmakers wrote. "Right now, the Administration has the opportunity to resolve more than 50 years of failed, racially discriminatory marijuana policy."

Map: States where marijuana is legal

Federal marijuana legalization 2024 

Even if marijuana gets reclassified, it doesn’t legalize pot nationwide. Schedule III drugs are still controlled substances.

They’re subject to various rules that allow for some medical uses, and for federal criminal prosecution of anyone who traffics in the drugs without permission.

Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational adult use. This means the country is only 10 states shy of the number required to force Congress to hold an Article V convention for a constitutional amendment.

Map: States that clear cannabis criminal offenses

Biden pardons thousands convicted of marijuana charges

In December, Biden made thousands of people who were convicted of use and simple possession of marijuana on federal lands and in the District of Columbia eligible for pardons. 

Biden also granted clemency to 11 people serving what the White House called "disproportionately long" sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. 

EARLIER: FDA recommends moving marijuana to lower-risk drug class: Key takeaways

Biden, in a statement, said his actions would help make the "promise of equal justice a reality."

"Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities," Biden said. "Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.