In 2022, President Joe Biden instructed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to complete a review of cannabis. The scientific study took almost eleven months due to the Department’s comprehensive analysis.
After completing the study, the HHS sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with recommendations in August 2023. Though not binding, the HHS explained how to schedule marijuana by federal law, such as including marijuana in Schedule III of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). According to current federal regulations, marijuana is a Schedule I drug.
According to researchers, keeping marijuana as a Schedule I drug creates significant barriers. They claimed it bars much of their studies concerning the drug, such as health benefits and concerns. However, changing the classification to Schedule III would ease these barriers despite keeping use prohibited on the federal level.
The request for the change indicates that the HHS believes that cannabis does not have a high potential for abuse. Some have speculated that the Department may have determined the drug to have no medical value. Suggesting the Schedule III classification supports this view, as drugs at this level have low to moderate potential for physical or psychological dependence.
The change would also allow the marijuana industry to make federal tax deductions. This possibility does not exist for Schedule I and Schedule II drugs. As such, the cannabis industry has operated under higher effective tax rates than most other industries.
The DEA has the final say on whether to follow through. However, significant political support combined with the analysis may sway the Administration’s decision. Should the DEA reschedule marijuana per the HHS’s letter, it could reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for possessing marijuana. This action could become the catalyst in Congress reforming federal cannabis laws.
Some advocates have voiced concerns despite the support for updating marijuana to Schedule III. For example, they have expressed worry about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) role if the DEA reschedules marijuana. There is considerable concern about the FDA taking a more active part, which could harm state markets.
For now, the DEA has not changed the federal laws for marijuana. However, employers should proactively consider their drug screening and background check processes concerning marijuana. Now is the time to prepare as regulators continue addressing and reforming cannabis regulations. One way to begin is by partnering with a reliable screening provider. The right partner is familiar with second-chance hiring, provides accurate reports, and ensures the company complies with relevant laws.
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