A pair of congressional Republican lawmakers is urging President Joe Biden to keep his campaign promise and reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Don Young (R-AK), both cochairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, sent the letter to the president on Monday. It states that the modest reform is “a matter of public health.”
As it stands, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug in the same category as “more harmful substances” like heroin, the letter says. That category is supposed to be reserved only for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse.
With overdoses involving opioids causing a record 69,710 deaths in 2020, the U.S. can no longer afford to sideline less addictive pain management alternatives.
— Dave Joyce (@RepDaveJoyce) July 20, 2021
“As a Schedule I substance, cannabis is not accepted for medical use on the federal level, which has caused significant research restrictions and continues to thwart the treatment of a wide range of patients, including those suffering from cancer as well as veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and people living with Multiple Sclerosis and seizure disorders,” it continues.
It should be noted that changing marijuana’s classification under federal law without an act of Congress is far more complicated than a single stroke of a presidential pen.
To effectively reclassify the drug through the executive branch, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or an outside party would have to file a petition, which would then be reviewed by the attorney general, who has traditionally delegated that responsibility to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The attorney general can also initiate the process on their own, requesting a scientific review directly to HHS. Under HHS, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would then assess the scientific, medical and public health implications before submitting that review to the Justice Department, which would follow through on a formal move to reschedule.
The letter from the Republican lawmakers goes on to say that “initial research has shown cannabis to be a significantly less addictive yet effective pain-management alternative” to opioids.
“As our nation continues to grapple with the opioid epidemic and the record-breaking death toll it caused amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot afford to sideline safer alternatives in the name of arcane regulations,” the lawmakers wrote. “Each day cannabis remains overly scheduled, patients and researchers across the United States continue to lose access to life-saving therapies and data.”
Joyce and Young are recently filed a bill to federally deschedule marijuana.
— Rep. Don Young (@repdonyoung) July 20, 2021
The Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act is similar to past bipartisan proposals—but this one goes a few steps further with language on legal protections and mandates for federal studies into medical cannabis. It does not contain social justice provisions to repair the past harms of the war on drugs, however.
In any case, the lawmakers are putting the president on notice after he pledged repeatedly on the campaign trail to simply reschedule cannabis. Biden maintains an opposition to adult-use legalization, however—a position reiterated by the White House press secretary last week after the Senate majority leader and colleagues introduced a comprehensive reform bill draft.
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“For the sake of patients across the country, as well as the United States’ medical superiority across the globe, the challenges posed by the overly stringent Schedule I classification of cannabis must be addressed,” the GOP lawmakers wrote to the president. “We stand ready and willing to work with your administration on this public health matter. Lives are on the line.”
Most advocates believe that only a complete removal of marijuana from the CSA—rather than a mere reclassification to a category other than Schedule I—will solve the problems created by federal prohibition.
During his presidential campaign last year, Biden ran on a pledge to enact other modest reforms such as decriminalizing cannabis possession, expunging prior records and respecting the rights of states to set their own laws. Since taking office, however, his administration has not made progress on any of those promises and has instead fired its own White House staffers over marijuana and sought to extend a budget provision that has blocked Washington, D.C. from legalizing cannabis sales.
He took some by surprise by suggesting that international sports rules on marijuana may need to be reevaluated after a star U.S. runner was suspended following a positive cannabis test. But that’s a far cry from endorsing comprehensive reform.
Psaki, for her part, initially declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at an earlier briefing with reporters. But she later told CNN that the case highlights the need to “take another look” at the rules on cannabis.
In April, the press secretary said that Biden’s campaign pledge to release federal inmates with marijuana convictions will start with modestly rescheduling cannabis—a proposal that advocates say wouldn’t actually accomplish what she’s suggesting.
Read the letter to Biden from Joyce and Young on marijuana rescheduling below: