Marijuana Eligible for Reclassification, Says FDA

Stephen Andrews
23 Jan 2024

Details from the ongoing federal review of marijuana have finally emerged. In a document numbering hundreds of pages, the feds are officially acknowledging for the very first time that marijuana has therapeutic qualities, and they lay down three main criteria that marijuana fulfils for its reschedule under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Documents released last week formulate that marijuana is eligible for a less strict classification under federal drug laws. A 252-pager from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contains the first official confirmation that health authorities have recommended the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to move marijuana in Schedule III of the CSA. 

As part of the review, researchers with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that there is reasonable evidence that shows cannabis has legitimate therapeutic uses and checks the criteria for a reschedule. 

The HHS made the Schedule III recommendation last summer, and could result in marijuana finally being removed from the Schedule I list of drugs where it was placed five decades ago, next to drugs such as heroin,  LSD and ecstasy. 

The 252-page review digs into detail about rescheduling marijuana under Schedule III of the CSA. The proposed classification is intended for “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological  dependence,” it says. The National Institute on Drugs Abuse also agrees on the proposal, which, if accepted, it will place marijuana next to other Schedule III substances like Tylenol with codeine and ketamine. 

FDA researchers wrote that “there exists some credible scientific support for the medical use of marijuana in at least one of the indications for which there is widespread current experience in the United States.”

“It is significant for these health agencies to acknowledge publicly, for the first time, what many patients and advocates have known for decades: that cannabis is a safe and effective therapeutic agent for tens of millions of Americans,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a statement

Marijuana Meets Three Criteria That Support Reclassification

The FDA singled out three criteria that support marijuana classification under Schedule III, which go as follows:

  1. Marijuana has a lower abuse potential compared to drugs in the Schedule I and Schedule II lists.
  2. Medicinal use of cannabis is currently accepted in most of the U.S.
  3. Cannabis has low or moderate risk of physical dependence among users.

The review further says that marijuana, despite it’s also widely used for recreational purposes, it does not result in significant negative outcomes as seen with other controlled substances such as cocaine, heroin and opioids. “This is especially notable given the availability” of products that contain very high levels of THC, the authors remark. 

The researchers write that while chronic marijuana users are prone to experiencing withdrawal, the same is not the case with occasional users. 

“The marijuana withdrawal syndrome appears to be relatively mild compared to the withdrawal syndrome associated with alcohol, which can include more serious symptoms such as agitation, paranoia, seizures and even death,” the review says. 

As per the medical reasons acknowledged, the review highlights that there is significant scientific support that cannabis therapy works for chronic pain, nausea, and anorexia. 

However, researchers also note that the review with its recommendation is “not meant to imply that safety and effectiveness have been established for marijuana” that would support approving the drug to treat any medical condition. 

Next on the move is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Given the DEA approves the recommendation to reclassify marijuana under Schedule III of the CSA, it could generate a far-reaching effect on the regulated cannabis sector. 

Reclassification will likely lead to rethinking the criminal justice approaches, and it may bring tax and banking reform, as well as it might open up interstate commerce. In a way, it could ring in the real start of legalization in the U.S. 

Still, this is not the preferred outcome for many cannabis advocates who believe that marijuana should be entirely removed from the CSA lists. Removing marijuana from Scheduled lists will give legal states the ultimate freedom to decide how they regulate the plant, without meddling from the federal government.

The ongoing marijuana review was motioned by President Joe Biden back in October 2022 as part of a larger announcement related to cannabis. The DEA is expected to act on the HHS recommendation sometime during 2024, before the elections. 

Also read on Soft Secrets:

DEA Will Have Final Say on Marijuana

- What Does Schedule III Mean? 

President Biden Extends Marijuana Pardons

Stephen Andrews