A coalition of 31 bipartisan House lawmakers has sent a letter to the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), urging the agency to take into account congressional and state marijuana legalization efforts as it carries out a review into cannabis scheduling. They also criticized the limitations of simple rescheduling as they push for complete a complete removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The Friday letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, led by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Brian Mast (R-FL) and first reported by Punchbowl News, states that the agency’s ongoing marijuana scheduling review that came at the direction of President Joe Biden represents a “necessary step in the work to end the federal government’s failed and discriminatory prohibition of cannabis.”
But as it completes the review—which comes after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that DEA move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act CSA—the lawmakers said that the law enforcement agency should consider that Congress has been working to comprehensive reform federal cannabis laws.
The letter says that “the administration and relevant agencies such as yours should recognize the merits of full descheduling and work with congressional leaders to ensure this happens,” adding that prohibition “does not reflect the will of the broader American electorate” and “it is time that [DEA’s] work fully reflects this reality as well.”
Lawmakers pointed out that the vast majority of states have enacted some form of legalization, and members from both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation to follow suit at the federal level. The House has twice passed comprehensive legalization legislation, they noted.
“Additionally, ending the unjust scheduling of marijuana and normalizing federal cannabis regulation go hand-in-hand. The federal government must correct this prohibition and the continued criminalization of otherwise legal marijuana—creating legal job opportunities, promoting public safety not unjust incarceration, and upholding established state regulation of cannabis production, taxation, and sales. We do not negate the need for corresponding legislative action on many of these components, but all branches of the federal government and relevant agencies must recognize the need to deschedule marijuana to protect the will of each state.”
While moving marijuana to Schedule III would “start to remedy this disconnect” between federal and state policies, it would not go far enough for “marijuana businesses, patients, and consumers,” they said.
“Descheduling is necessary to end the harmful federal marijuana prohibition and help our law enforcement officers appropriately prioritize public safety,” the lawmakers continued. “Descheduling also provides the clearest path to address the legal uncertainty facing small businesses in states with regulated cannabis markets by creating opportunities for regulating and taxing commercial marijuana activities.”
“While Congress works to send the President comprehensive cannabis legislation, the urgency of full descheduling should inform DEA’s position on overall cannabis reform and appropriate enforcement centered on advancing public safety, not unjust criminalization,” the letter concludes. “Marijuana’s continued inappropriate scheduling is both arcane and out-of-touch with the will of the American people. We look forward to your response and the Drug Enforcement Administration working transparently and proactively with Congress to adopt this crucial step.”
Other signatories of the letter Reps. Jack Bergman (R-MI), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Lou Correa (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), James McGovern (D-MA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Katie Porter (D-CA), David Trone (D-MD) and others.
The letter serves as a counterbalance to other recent messages DEA has received from congressional opponents of reform and former DEA and White House drug czars who argue that even moving marijuana to Schedule III would go too far.
A coalition of 14 Republican congressional lawmakers recently urged DEA to “reject” the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana and instead keep it in the most restrictive category under the CSA.
Meanwhile, two GOP senators, including the lead Republican sponsor of a marijuana banking bill that cleared a key committee last month, recently filed new legislation to prevent federal agencies from rescheduling cannabis without tacit approval from Congress.
Advocates and lawmakers who support cannabis reform, meanwhile, marked the one-year anniversary of Biden’s mass marijuana pardon and scheduling directive by calling on him to do more—including by expanding the scope of relief that his pardon had and by expressly supporting federal legalization.
This week, HHS released a highly redacted version of a brief letter to DEA’s Milgram regarding the agency’s marijuana rescheduling recommendation. The letter confirmed certain previously reported details such as the date of the correspondence, August 29, and the author, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine. But it was redacted to exclude the substance of the message such as the scheduling recommendation itself, as well as the scientific review portion that was attached to the letter.
Read the letter from the congressional lawmaker to DEA regarding its marijuana scheduling review below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.