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DEA Head Tells Lawmakers It Would Be ‘Inappropriate’ To Comment On Marijuana Rescheduling Proposal Due To ‘Ongoing’ Administrative Process



The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told lawmakers on Tuesday that it would be “inappropriate” for her to comment on the agency’s recent marijuana rescheduling determination because the rulemaking process is “ongoing.”

About a week after the Justice Department confirmed DEA is seeking to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), DEA Administrator Anne Milgram briefly touched on the issue at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

Ahead of Tuesday’s committee meeting, the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) said sources familiar with the matter have told them that Milgram did not personally sign the proposed rescheduling rule. If true, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that she disagrees with the decision—but the administrator made clear to lawmakers that she would not be shedding any light on the process at this point.

However, she did notably respond to one question about past precedent and said that “stepping out of marijuana,” she’s unaware of any instance where a DEA administrator hasn’t signed a scheduling order.

Milgram focused much of his opening remarks on combating international fentanyl trafficking, but she also preemptively addressed the marijuana rescheduling news.

“Because the formal rulemaking process is ongoing—and my role in that process is to determine the scheduling of drugs—it would be inappropriate for me to respond to questions on this rescheduling matter,” she said at the end of her opening remarks at the hearing.

While DOJ is moving to reschedule cannabis following an extensive review process, there are still several additional steps before a rule is finalized and implemented. That includes a White House review of the rule, a public comment period and possible administrative hearings.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) did inquire about the rescheduling decision with Milgram at the hearing despite her opening comments intended to preempt such questioning, and the administrator reiterated that the “process is ongoing” and so she wouldn’t speak about it directly.

“There’s a formal rulemaking process for scheduling or rescheduling controlled substances. That process is ongoing,” she said. “The next step in that process will be a notice of proposed rulemaking and then an opportunity for public comment.”

“Because DEA is involved very much in that scheduling process—and the DEA administrator is personally involved in it—it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it at this time,” she said.

Ruppersberger responded by imploring DEA to “balance” federal enforcement priorities with the need to respect state marijuana laws. He said Maryland’s adult-use cannabis program is “working well.” Milgram simply said she appreciates the input.

Another member, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), pressed the administrator on where the marijuana rescheduling proposal is in the process and whether the White House has communicated with DEA about the action.

Milgram again declined to comment directly. However, when asked about whether she’s aware of an instance where a DEA administrator has not personally signed a scheduling order—as SAM’s sources claims she refrained from doing with the cannabis proposal—she said that “stepping out of marijuana and talking about this generally, I am not” aware of any such instance.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) asked the administrator about research into the prevalence of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome and whether she could weigh in on the adverse effects of marijuana use in light of the rescheduling decision. But, again, Milgram said, “because that is going to be a part of this regulatory process, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.”

“But I appreciate your mentioning that study and that, of course, I’ll read it,” she said.

Aderholt went on to say he’s “very, very concerned about this rescheduling” because he believes cannabis use is linked to an increase of certain mental health conditions.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) also asked Milgram whether a potential reclassification of marijuana under the CSA would free up DEA resources to tackle the country’s fentanyl issue.

She said that, “because some of this will implicate decisions that become a part of that rulemaking process, I’m not gonna be able to comment on that.”

But at a “very, very high level,” the administrator affirmed that DEA does “currently do work around marijuana across the United States where it rises to the federal level,” referencing “work in a number of states on current illicit marijuana grows that are led by Chinese organizations, for example.”

“So there is work we do. Our top focus is obviously fentanyl—the drug that’s killing Americans,” she said. “But we do do work on [marijuana] currently.”

Later this year, another DEA representative, William Heuett, is set to present on the agency’s “processing of schedule I research applications” at a federal research meeting on the potential for marijuana to treat pain. It’s not clear how that presentation might be updated in light of the ongoing rescheduling process.

Meanwhile in the wake of the DEA rescheduling announcement, a former head of the agency said the proposal is “understandable” because it “reflects the reality” of public opinion toward the medical value of cannabis.

In an interview with Fox News last week week, former DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson said it “absolutely looks like” the agency will follow through with moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

“Whenever we see over a dozen states now have medical marijuana, clearly there’s a movement for reclassification,” he said. “And so it’s not a surprise to me.”

“I think it reflects the reality of today’s both culture but also the public sentiment. That’s most significant,” said Hutchinson, a Republican who also served as governor of Arkansas.

Separately, the top Democrat in the U.S. House said last week that the Biden administration’s move to reschedule marijuana is a “step in the right direction,” but it should be followed up with congressional action such as passing the legalization bill Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) filed.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, a Republican senator said that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” and Democrats’ moves to legalize it reflect “pro-criminal, anti-American policies” that will “stimulate more crime on American streets.” He also argued that cannabis banking legislation “facilitates an entire infrastructure and an ecosystem for more drug usage in America.”

Marijuana Rescheduling Will Make Republicans ‘More Comfortable’ Voting For Banking And Other Reforms, Former GOP Congressman Says

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis/Side Pocket Images.

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