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DEA Officials Discuss Marijuana Scheduling Timeline, Seeking To ‘Correct Misperceptions’ That Decisions Are Made In A ‘Shroud Of Secrecy’



A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official says the agency wants to “correct misperceptions” that its drug scheduling review process is done in a “shroud of secrecy” as it works to reach a final decision on possibly reclassifying marijuana. He also said it sometimes takes up to six months for DEA to complete its analysis of health officials’ recommendations—which is just about how long it has now been since the agency began its current cannabis assessment.

In the latest episode of the agency’s “Prevention Profiles: Take Five” series, DEA Senior Prevention Program Manager Rich Lucey spoke with DEA pharmacologist Buki Ebeigbe about the scheduling process and specifically how it relates to the ongoing cannabis review—marking the first time that officials with the agency have discussed its current analysis of marijuana’s Schedule I status publicly in any depth.

“I just think it’s important for people to—again, going back to correcting misperceptions and really the issue of transparency and, by us even doing this podcast, just to help people understand the process,” Lucey said. “We don’t want it to necessarily feel as if it’s behind this shroud of secrecy, which I think then lends itself to this idea that it’s a whole arbitrary process.”

Transparency has been a key concern for advocates and lawmakers, with DEA declining to say anything publicly beyond confirming that they’ve received the recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and are now carrying out their own review.

That process is “independent” of the HHS review, Lucey stressed.

That’s right,” Ebeigbe said. “It’s in its process. We’ve received [the HHS analysis], and we’re in the process of writing that recommendation” on cannabis scheduling to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.

“Once that information is compiled and that document is written—that eight-factor document is written—it’s reviewed through our internal process,” she said, referring to the multi-step analysis the agency is completing on the effects of cannabis. “Ultimately, the administrator will make a decision on where to place it—whether to change it or whether to remove it or whatever.”

Lucey also commented on the complexity of drug scheduling reviews and what that means in terms of timing.

“Right now it’s a ‘wait and see.’ HHS has done their part, and now DEA is doing its part, which is that eight-factor analysis. And that can take anywhere from like three to six months sometimes,” he said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re going to be done in a week. It never happens that way.”

While Lucey was speaking generally about the drug scheduling review process, that timeline is notable. HHS delivered its Schedule III recommendation to DEA last August, meaning it’s been more than six months now that the drug agency has been conducting its own review. And there’s significant pressure to complete its work expeditiously.

Vice President Kamala Harris recently added her voice to that end, urging DEA to finalize its cannabis review “as quickly as possible” and calling it “absurd” and “patently unfair” that marijuana remains in Schedule I alongside drugs such as heroin.

The expectation is that, once DEA completes the review, it will publish its decision in the Federal Register, after which point there will be a public comment period. Asked whether those comments will “play a role” in the possibility of rescheduling, Ebeigbe said “that is an unknown—that is an absolute unknown.”

In any case, she stressed earlier in the interview that “it’s important for the viewers to know that we read every single comment and we have to respond publicly.” She also noted that, after the public comment period, there’s a possibility the agency will schedule a hearing, which individuals can request if they “would like their opinions heard on a larger scale.”

Ebeigbe also broadly defended the scheduling review process, stressing that it is not “arbitrary” and that everything the agency does must be “legally defensible.”

One legal question that may be considered concerns international treaty obligations and whether the U.S. would be out of compliance with United Nations (UN) Single Convention treaties if it moved cannabis to Schedule III—an argument that several conservative lawmakers and prohibitionists have insisted DEA take into account, despite differing opinions among legal experts.

Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra recently defended his agency’s rescheduling recommendation during a Senate committee hearing and also told cannabis lobbyist Don Murphy that he should pay DEA a visit and “knock on their door” for answers about the timing of their decision.

Certain DEA officials are reportedly resisting the Biden administration’s rescheduling push, disputing the HHS findings on marijuana’s safety profile and medical potential, according to unnamed sources who spoke with The Wall Street Journal.

The Biden administration was also recently pressed to reschedule marijuana by two coalitions representing military veterans and law enforcement—including a group that counts DEA’s Milgram among its members.

Based on a recent poll, President Joe Biden’s cannabis moves stand to benefit him in the election. The survey found the president’s favorability spiked after people were made aware of the possibility that marijuana could be rescheduled under the Biden-initiated review.

Where Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Stands On Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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