Congressional marijuana reform leaders say that they are encouraged that a top Biden administration official told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he believes a cannabis scheduling review that he’s overseeing could be completed “this year.”
In the months since President Joe Biden directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice Department to carry out the administrative review, advocates and stakeholders have eagerly waited for a status update. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra finally offered a tentative timeline, saying he hopes to send the president a scheduling decision “this year.”
Three co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus weighed in on the news in statements to Marijuana Moment, expressing cautious optimism that the secretary will follow through with action in the coming months.
“I will be disappointed if we cannot make significant progress within the year,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said. “There should be a greater sense of urgency for this long overdue action.”
Blumenauer also led a letter to Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland in March, alongside 15 other bipartisan members of Congress, demanding transparency in the cannabis scheduling review.
The letter said that Biden’s scheduling directive represents “an opportunity to make honest assessment of the origins and implications of federal policy,” adding that “marijuana was scheduled based on stigma not science,” and it’s “time to address marijuana’s existing reality as a state-regulated substance.”
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) told Marijuana Moment on Friday that he’s “glad to have the support of Secretary Becerra to work on a commonsense, extensive review of the scheduling process.”
And Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) made clear that she wants the review to conclude with a determination to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) entirely.
“Federal descheduling is long overdue,” the congresswoman told Marijuana Moment. “We’ve been pushing the Biden administration to take bold steps to end the war on drugs, and I’m hopeful they will.”
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As lawmakers work to enact more incremental marijuana legislation like the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, Lee said last week that the Biden administration needs to take action on federal cannabis scheduling “now,” before the upcoming election.
According to Becerra, who spoke to Marijuana Moment during a press briefing in Sacramento on Thursday, that timeline may actually be achievable—and could even come months before the November election.
“What I can tell you is that the president instructed us at HHS—FDA in particular—to take a look at how we treat marijuana to see if we can update our review of marijuana as a drug and how we can make sure how we treat it going forward on the federal level,” the secretary said. “Places like California have already changed the laws, the federal government has not, and so we’ve been instructed and we’re underway with that review as we speak.”
He said that HHS, along with other agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), are “working together to try to see if we can give the president an answer that’s based on the science and the evidence. Stay tuned. We hope to be able to get there pretty soon—hopefully this year.”
Once HHS finalizes its review, it will send a scheduling recommendation to DEA, which makes the final call. The health agency’s scientific findings are binding, but DEA could theoretically flout the resulting recommendation.
“We are working to try to get out there as quickly as we can on marijuana,” Becerra said.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.