The Justice Department continues to loosen federal restrictions on marijuana

Washington – The Justice Department on Thursday officially proposed a new rule that would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug, a policy measure that would loosen restrictions on cannabis at the federal level if ultimately approved.

While the marijuana rescheduling would neither make the substance legal nor decriminalize it nationwide; changing the classification from its current Schedule I status to Schedule III would bring the drug into regulatory parity with other substances, such as ketamine and anabolic steroids.

The Drug Enforcement Administration currently classifies marijuana as a substance that “currently has no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse.” The proposed rule would shift the DEA's treatment of the drug to one that has “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”

The proposal ushers in a months-long comment and administrative period, meaning the realignment would not take effect immediately. After 60 days, officials will make a final decision before the rule is officially published.

In 2022, President Biden asked the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to investigate the DEA's marijuana classification. According to a Justice Department memo released last month, HHS “concluded after reviewing several studies that there was some credible scientific support that marijuana could be used effectively” in certain medical situations.

“No professional medical organization currently recommends the use of marijuana,” the memo said, adding that “it recommends against its use.” Dozens of states already allow the use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes.

The notice of proposed rulemaking sent to the Federal Register on Tuesday said the attorney general “agrees with HHS's recommendation, for purposes of initiating this rulemaking proceeding, that marijuana has less potential for abuse than the drugs or other substances in schedules I and II. .”

Mr. Biden called the move “monumental” in a video posted Tuesday, noting that marijuana policy is a priority of his administration.

Last year, the president moved to pardon thousands of Americans convicted at the federal level of simple cannabis possession, and he urged governors to do the same. Advocates for a policy change, including Mr. Biden, have said that marijuana scheduling has unnecessarily affected minority populations and resulted in harsh prison sentences for mere possession.

News of the proposed realignment emerged in late April after Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DEA submitted the rule to government officials for review. Critics of the move — including several former DEA officials who spoke to CBS News — said at the time that the administration made a mistake because of the risks posed by the drug's side effects. And the new rule, they said, would be a gateway to more dangerous substances.

Pat Milton contributed to this report.

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