US Department of Health calls for cannabis to be rescheduled

The HSS has recommended that cannabis be rescheduled but what does the announcement mean for consumers, researchers and businesses?

by Megan Townsend

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has officially recommended that cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law, with the possibility of becoming one of the most significant shifts in US drug policy in years. Let’s look at what the move could mean for consumers, research and businesses.

In a leaked letter seen by Bloomberg News, it has been revealed that the HHS has called on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). 

The reclassification of cannabis would see it aligned with substances that are deemed to have a low potential for dependency and abuse, such as ketamine, codeine and anabolic steroids. Substances within the Schedule III classification tend to be FDA-approved drugs that are available on prescription. 

In the US cannabis is currently listed as a Schedule I substance, and so is deemed as having ‘no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse’. This means it currently sits amongst the ranks of heroin and ecstasy. Cannabis is also still illegal at the federal level, despite adult recreational use being legal in 23 states and medical use being legal in 38 states. 

Interestingly, this recommendation comes ten months after President Joe Biden asked his attorney general and health secretary to review the current classification of cannabis. Hopefully this begins a domino effect of drug policy reform in the US. 

Impacts of the announcement

Overall, the recommendation for cannabis to be reclassified signals good news for researchers, patients and businesses alike. 

The plant’s current illegal status means that researchers find it hard to carry out large-scale trials and access research grants. However, Schedule III status would remove some of the barriers which currently make carrying out research and formulating new treatments difficult within the US. 

Rescheduling would also make it easier for cannabis businesses to operate within the space. Existing banking laws in the US force most businesses to operate in cash as banks are unable to handle money generated from certain drug sales. However, Schedule III status may allow businesses to claim standard business tax deductions on their federal returns and may permit them to list on major exchanges. 

In turn, this means good news for patients, with advances in access and supply able to meet demand. 

A word of caution

It’s important to note that the rescheduling of cannabis in the US is still, nonetheless, a small step forward in the grand scheme of things. 

Schedule III status would mean that cannabis stays illegal at the federal level, keeping it under the control of the CSA. As such, consumption of cannabis would remain a prosecutable offence. Therefore, consumers are unlikely to see any real benefits until cannabis is descheduled and removed from the CSA completely.

Nevertheless, this is an important step in the right direction and a sign that prospects for federal cannabis reform are slowly approaching. 

Our Head Operations, Katya Kowalski, spoke to Cannabis Health News about the announcement. Read the article here.

This piece was written by Volteface Content and Media Officer Megan Townsend. She is particularly interested in the reform of drug legislation, subcultural drug use and harm reduction initiatives. She also has an MA in Criminology from Birmingham City University. Tweets @megant2799.

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