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Biden Pushed To Reschedule Marijuana By Veterans And Law Enforcement Groups—Including One That Has DEA Head As A Member



The Biden administration is being pressed to reschedule marijuana by two coalitions representing military veterans and law enforcement—including a group that counts Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram among its members.

In a pair of recent letters sent to DEA and President Joe Biden, Law Enforcement Leaders To Reduce Crime & Incarceration (LEL) and a group of veterans service organizations separately pushed for the reclassification of cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The law enforcement group, comprised of current and former police chiefs, prosecutors and federal officials, said they are “concerned about how the direct conflict between state and federal laws that currently exists regarding the handling of cannabis makes it difficult for law enforcement to respond effectively to pressing public safety challenges,” adding that the policy disconnect has also empowered the illicit market.

Over 30 members of LEL signed the letter to Biden. Milgram, the current DEA chief overseeing the agency’s marijuana scheduling review, is a member of the group but did not sign it. She was CCed on the letter, however.

“We believe that reclassification under schedule III would be an important step to help both federal and state law enforcement better prioritize limited public safety resources,” the law enforcement leaders wrote. “They can focus efforts on working together to combat the harms that arise from unregulated cannabis markets.”

“Moreover, rescheduling would also allow legal markets to compete on a level playing field potentially leading to greater reinvestments in critical programs that can bolster public safety. Therefore, we strongly urge the Drug Enforcement Administration to follow HHS’s  recommendation and reclassify marijuana as a schedule III substance under the CSA. Such a move would advance public safety and promote more efficient and effective use of law enforcement resources across the country.”

Other members of the association who are not signatories of the new letter, which was first reported by The Hill, include a former White House drug czar, U.S. Marshalls Service director and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) director. Marijuana Moment reached out to DEA for comment on the administrator’s affiliation with LEL, but a representative was not immediately available.

“It is absolutely critical for law enforcement to have clear federal laws and not a patchwork approach to cannabis policy,” Ronal Serpas, a former New Orleans and Nashville police chief and executive director of LEL, told Marijuana Moment. “Rescheduling is an important first step to helping local, state and federal law enforcement collaborate effectively against real threats to public safety such as violent crime and the dangers presented by an unregulated and illicit cannabis market.”

The veterans groups, meanwhile, sent a letter to DEA’s Milgram late last week that urges the agency to “expeditiously accept” HHS’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana.

The signatories include the heads of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), AMVETS, the American Legion and the Minority Veterans of America.

“The recommendation by HHS to move cannabis to Schedule III reflects a growing acknowledgement of the accepted medical use and potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis products,” they wrote. “As organizations dedicated to advocating for the well-being of our veterans, we believe the recommendation of Schedule III will open greater access to the alternative medicines that our nation’s heroes demand and deserve.”

The letter, first reported by NBC News, adds that while U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy permits veterans to discuss their cannabis use with the agency’s doctors, “many veterans remain uncomfortable discussing cannabis use with their VA providers due to fear of retribution.”

“As the nation’s largest healthcare provider, the VA can and must do better in providing treatment options to veterans—treatments that are readily available in 38 states around the country to millions of civilian Americans outside of the VHA,” the letter says. “By accepting the recommendation that cannabis be moved to Schedule III from HHS, the VA will be better positioned to integrate cannabis as an option in its pursuit of providing the best care possible for the veterans it serves.”

“We understand that the administrative scheduling process involves several steps, but the sooner the DEA moves forward with a reclassification of cannabis, the sooner it could potentially be integrated into the VHA—our nation’s largest healthcare system. A prompt acceptance of the HHS recommendation will allow the VHA to explore innovative approaches to healthcare that are directly targeted to the needs of the veteran community it is dedicated to serving.

We appreciate your commitment to public service and strongly believe that an acceptance of the HHS recommendation of Schedule III will lead to a more robust set of treatment options for our nation’s veterans, including treatments found to not have many of the harmful side effects that result from current options. We look forward to your final decision soon.”

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently highlighted its scientific review into marijuana that led the agency to recommend rescheduling—a process that involved a comprehensive analysis of research, as well looking at hundreds of posts on social media platforms to see how consumers described cannabis’s therapeutic impact.

It’s been about six months since FDA under HHS provided DEA with its marijuana rescheduling recommendation, but the timing of a final decision is uncertain. In the interim, Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) recently urged the agency to release more information about its ongoing review—including what its “planned deadline” is for finishing and whether it will take into account the fact that many states have already legalized cannabis.

The correspondence came in response to a recent assertion from DEA that it has “final authority” on the rescheduling decision—which itself was a reply to a separate letter from Blumenauer and 30 other bipartisan lawmakers.

On the other side of the issue, a Republican congressman who has long opposed marijuana reform claimed in a letter to DEA that FDA came to a “misguided conclusion” to recommend rescheduling cannabis, challenging the health agency’s scientific standards and imploring DEA to dismiss them as it prepares to make a final determination.

A separate letter sent to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram last month—led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other champions of marijuana reform—urged DEA to go further than rescheduling by fully removing cannabis from the CSA.

Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said last month that his agency has “communicated” its “position” on marijuana rescheduling to DEA and has continued to offer additional information to assist with the final determination.

Prior to HHS releasing a trove of documents concerning its cannabis recommendation, a coalition of 12 Democratic state attorneys general implored DEA to move forward with federal marijuana rescheduling, calling the policy change a “public safety imperative.”

In another letter in December, 29 former U.S. attorneys called on the Biden administration to leave cannabis in Schedule I.

Also that month, the governors of six U.S. states—Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Louisiana—sent a letter to Biden calling on the administration to reschedule marijuana by the end of last year.

Meanwhile, six former DEA heads and five former White House drug czars sent a letter to the attorney general and current DEA administrator voicing opposition to the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana. They also made a questionable claim about the relationship between drug schedules and criminal penalties in a way that could exaggerate the potential impact of the incremental reform.

Signatories include DEA and Office of National Drug Control Policy heads under multiple administrations led by presidents of both major parties.

A coalition of 14 Republican congressional lawmakers, meanwhile, separately 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.

A recent poll found that about one-third of marijuana consumers say they would go back to the illicit market if cannabis was rescheduled and only made legally available as an FDA-approved prescription drug.

Another recent survey found that President Joe Biden stands to make significant political gains if marijuana is rescheduled under his administrative directive. Of course, Biden doesn’t directly control the final outcome.

The president has routinely touted his 2022 scheduling directive, as well as a mass pardon he granted for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses. He followed up on that action in December with a renewed and expanded pardon proclamation. The Justice Department has already begun issuing certifications for people who applied under the second round.

Vice President Kamala Harris’s office has been reaching out to people who’ve received a cannabis pardon—seeking assurance that the Justice Department certification process is going smoothly and engaging in broader discussions about cannabis policy reform, according to a pardon recipient who was contacted.

Read the letters from law enforcement and veterans groups on marijuana rescheduling below: 

New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill, Though Senate Hurdles Remain On Way To Governor’s Desk

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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