May 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Easing marijuana restrictions takes first step forward at Justice Department

Illustration of the United States seal holding a marijuana leaf instead of an olive branch.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The Biden administration announced Thursday that it has taken the next step to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug under federal law.

Why it matters: Initiating the process to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a less dangerous Schedule III drug is the first step to make the major policy change President Biden announced last month a reality.

Zoom in: The Attorney General submitted a proposed rulemaking to the Federal Register that launches the formal process to consider reclassifying marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, the Justice Department said

  • Until a final rule is published, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, per the DOJ.
  • The proposal must be formally published in the Federal Register and go through a public comment period before it can take effect, a process that can take a year or more.

What they're saying: "This is monumental," President Biden said in a video posted on social media Thursday.

  • "It's an important move toward reversing longstanding inequities," he continued. "Far too many lives have been upended because of failed approach to marijuana and I'm committed to righting those wrongs."

Zoom out: Schedule I drugs, including heroin, LSD and ecstasy, are considered to have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," per the DEA.

  • Schedule III drugs, meanwhile, have "a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence," which includes Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids and testosterone.

Go deeper: Biden gives cannabis industry a badly needed win

Go deeper