Updated Apr 30, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden admin moves to ease U.S. marijuana restrictions

Several marijuana plants seen growing

Marijuana plants found growing in Southern California in March 2024. Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

The Biden administration is moving to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug as soon as Tuesday, clearing the last regulatory hurdle for a major policy change, multiple outlets reported and Axios confirmed.

The big picture: The new rule, which has to be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would recognize medical uses of marijuana and that it has less potential for abuse than other drugs.

  • It would not legalize cannabis outright for recreational use, the AP first reported.
  • The Attorney General will send the rule to OMB for review as soon as Tuesday, administration and congressional sources familiar confirmed to Axios.

Zoom in: The DEA move would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy, to a Schedule III drug.

  • Other Schedule III drugs, which have "a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence," include Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids and testosterone, per the DEA.
  • Schedule I drugs are considered to have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

State of play: Dozens of states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana.

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration, which is housed within the DOJ, told Congress earlier this year that it was "conducting its review" of whether to soften federal regulation of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.
  • This move could clear obstacles for the cannabis industry to access banking services.

What they're saying: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland "circulated" the proposed reclassification on Tuesday, Xochitl Hinojosa, DOJ Director of Public Affairs, 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," the spokesperson said.
  • On Thursday, a group of Democratic legislators called on the DEA to remove marijuana from the Schedule I list of controlled substances.
  • Marijuana's designation creates "severe penalties for marijuana users and businesses, including for criminal records, immigration statuses, employment, taxation, health care, public housing, social services and more," Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) office said in a statement.

Go deeper: DEA tells Congress it's considering easing marijuana restrictions

Andrew Solender contributed reporting for this article.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details throughout.

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