Central Oregon DailyUS regulators might change how they classify marijuana, what that would mean

US regulators might change how they classify marijuana, what that would mean

US regulators might change how they classify marijuana, what that would mean

US regulators might change how they classify marijuana, what that would mean

NEW YORK (AP) 鈥 The news lit up the world of weed: U.S. health regulators are聽suggesting that the federal government loosen restrictions on marijuana.

Specifically, the federal Health and Human Services Department has recommended taking marijuana out of a category of drugs deemed to have 鈥渘o currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.鈥 The agency advised moving pot from that 鈥淪chedule I鈥 group to the less tightly regulated 鈥淪chedule III.鈥

So what does that mean, and what are the implications? Read on.

FIRST OF ALL, WHAT HAS ACTUALLY CHANGED? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Technically, nothing yet. Any decision on reclassifying 鈥 or 鈥渞escheduling,鈥 in government lingo 鈥 is up to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which says it will take up the issue. The review process is lengthy and involves taking public comment.

Still, the HHS recommendation is 鈥減aradigm-shifting, and it鈥檚 very exciting,鈥 said Vince Sliwoski, a Portland, Oregon-based cannabis and psychedelics attorney who runs well-known legal blogs on those topics.

鈥淚 can鈥檛 emphasize enough how big of news it is,鈥 he said.

It came after聽President Joe Biden asked聽both HHS and the attorney general, who oversees the DEA, last year to review how marijuana was classified. Schedule I put it on par, legally, with heroin, LSD, quaaludes and ecstasy, among others.

Biden, a Democrat, supports legalizing medical marijuana for use 鈥渨here appropriate, consistent with medical and scientific evidence,鈥 White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday. 鈥淭hat is why it is important for this independent review to go through.鈥

SO IF MARIJUANA GETS RECLASSIFIED, WOULD IT LEGALIZE RECREATIONAL POT NATIONWIDE?

No. Schedule III drugs 鈥 which include ketamine, anabolic steroids and some acetaminophen-codeine combinations 鈥 are still controlled substances.

They鈥檙e subject to various rules that allow for some medical uses, and for federal criminal prosecution of anyone who traffics in the drugs without permission. (Even under marijuana鈥檚 current Schedule I status, federal prosecutions for simply possessing it are few: There were 145 federal sentencings in fiscal year 2021 for that crime, and as of 2022, no defendants were in prison for it.)

It鈥檚 unlikely that the medical marijuana programs now licensed in 38 states 鈥 to say nothing of the legal recreational pot markets in 23 states 鈥 would meet the production, record-keeping, prescribing and other requirements for Schedule III drugs.

But rescheduling in itself would have some impact, particularly on research and on pot business taxes.

WHAT WOULD THIS MEAN FOR RESEARCH?

Because marijuana is on Schedule I, it鈥檚 been very difficult to conduct authorized clinical studies that involve administering the drug. That has created something of a Catch-22: calls for more research, but barriers to doing it. (Scientists sometimes rely instead on people鈥檚 own reports of their marijuana use.)

Schedule III drugs are easier to study.

In the meantime, a 2022 federal law aimed to ease marijuana research.

WHAT ABOUT TAXES (AND BANKING)?

Under the federal tax code, businesses involved in 鈥渢rafficking鈥 in marijuana or any other Schedule I or II drug can鈥檛 deduct rent, payroll or various other expenses that other businesses can write off. (Yes, at least some cannabis businesses, particularly state-licensed ones, do pay taxes to the federal government, despite its prohibition on marijuana.) Industry groups say the tax rate often ends up at 70% or more.

The deduction rule doesn鈥檛 apply to Schedule III drugs, so the proposed change would cut pot companies鈥 taxes substantially.

They say it would treat them like other industries and help them compete against illegal competitors that are frustrating licensees and officials in聽places such as New York.

鈥淵ou鈥檙e going to make these state-legal programs stronger,鈥 says Adam Goers, an executive at medical and recreational pot giant Columbia Care. He co-chairs a coalition of corporate and other players that鈥檚 pushing for rescheduling.

Rescheduling wouldn鈥檛 directly affect another pot business problem: difficulty accessing banks, particularly for loans, because the federally regulated institutions are wary of the drug鈥檚 legal status. The industry has been looking instead to a聽measure called the SAFE Banking Act. It has repeatedly passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

ARE THERE CRITICS? WHAT DO THEY SAY?

Indeed, there are, including the national anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. President Kevin Sabet, a former Obama administration drug policy official, said the HHS recommendation 鈥渇lies in the face of science, reeks of politics鈥 and gives a regrettable nod to an industry 鈥渄esperately looking for legitimacy.鈥

Some legalization advocates say rescheduling weed is too incremental. They want to keep focus on removing it completely from the controlled substances list, which doesn鈥檛 include such items as alcohol or tobacco (they鈥檙e regulated, but that鈥檚 not the same).

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Deputy Director Paul Armentano said that simply reclassifying marijuana would be 鈥減erpetuating the existing divide between state and federal marijuana policies.鈥 Minority Cannabis Business Association President Kaliko Castille said rescheduling just 鈥漴e-brands prohibition,鈥 rather than giving an all-clear to state licensees and putting a definitive close to decades of arrests that disproportionately pulled in people of color.

鈥淪chedule III is going to leave it in this kind of amorphous, mucky middle where people are not going to understand the danger of it still being federally illegal,鈥 he said.

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