Connect with us


White House Drug Czar Condemns ‘Failed Policies’ Of Marijuana Prohibition And Says Rescheduling Will Speed Up Legal Drug Development



The White House drug czar is continuing to tout the Biden administration’s move to reschedule marijuana, criticizing the “failed policies” of prohibition that have “destroyed lives,” while touting the research potential of the reform to develop cannabis-based medications.

Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), discussed the rescheduling efforts during an interview with the Mo News Podcast that was posted on Tuesday.

“We’ve had, when it comes to marijuana, failed policies for more than half a century, because of which way too many lives have been upended,” he said. “We have had a failed approach where we have so many people incarcerated because of it and so many people, their lives have been basically destroyed.”

Gupta aligned himself with President Joe Biden’s position that nobody should be jailed over marijuana possession or use, pointing out that such a conviction can impact housing and job opportunities.

Moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as the administration is proposing, would not legalize cannabis, however. So people could still face those collateral consequences, even for simple possession, if it is merely reclassified. However, as Gupta pointed out, the reform will remove certain research barriers that could potentially streamline drug development.

“We’ve got to make sure that we are following science and analyzing substances for potential benefit, especially with the data that exists,” he said, adding that with a Schedule III designation, “there will be drugs that will be developed that will have to go through [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)] approval process and all of that.”

“But it does allow the recognition of the medical uses,” he said. “More importantly, it also allows the opening of research. It’s critical because the research for over half a century has been lacking significantly in this field to see the current and more benefits in the future—more product developments. We may have new products that may be able to help with or cure diseases.”

“It also will help people with chronic conditions like cancer or chronic pain or others as well,” he said, adding that under Schedule I, it’s a “catch-22 situation” where people are seeking more research to demonstrate the medical utility of cannabis but face obstacles to conducting such research.

“There will be systems in the future that will be developed that will probably be less expensive and more legal, you can say, in that sense, because it will be through a Schedule III regime that will be there,” he said.

Of course, the idea that companies will prioritize cannabis-derived drug development with a Schedule III reclassification is only a theoretical possibility. FDA has already approved synthetic THC and CBD-based medications for certain conditions, and it’s possible that the reduced research barriers could lead to additional approvals down the line. But it is unlikely that FDA would approve marijuana in botanical form as a prescription drug, so the products available in commercial markets would continue to be illegal and unapproved for interstate commerce.

A report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) earlier this month also clarified that further action from FDA would be needed before marijuana products become available by prescription.

Gupta oversimplified the idea of marijuana’s potential availability as a prescription drug in another recent interview. And he’s also mistakenly suggested that rescheduling would address the “racial disparity” in cannabis enforcement.

One of the more confusing parts of Gupta’s latest interview came when he was asked whether Congress should follow the lead of states and federally legalize marijuana. The ONDCP director didn’t directly answer the question but said part of Biden’s reasoning for orchestrating the administrative scheduling review was because “he did wait on Congress, and movement did not happen.”

As the White House has repeatedly clarified, Biden does not support federal marijuana legalization, even if he backs the right of states to set their own cannabis policies. He hasn’t publicly said that the scheduling review directive was a response to congressional inaction; rather, he’s characterized it as an example of fulfilling a campaign promise.

“Of course, Congress has the ability to move forward in any way it wants to,” Gupta said. “But at the same time, we just can’t stay still because too many lives are at stake, both from the criminal justice system and also from the benefits of it.”

“It’s important that, as an administration, we’re doing what can be possible from administration standpoint,” he said. “It’s both evidence-guided, as well as guided by law that currently exists to take this process on and ensure that we’re doing everything possible when it comes to, again, this policy that has been in place for decades and decades and has not helped the American people.”

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

A former drug czar who served under President Barack Obama recently took a sharply different position on marijuana rescheduling than Gupta. Former ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske recently said that cannabis is “not medicine” and that rescheduling was “all Big Cannabis.”

“This isn’t people my age that are just old hippies that want to open up a pot shop somewhere” Kerlikowske said on the podcast of former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono (R). “This is a huge business like Big Tobacco. Absolutely.”

Meanwhile, the proposed rule to federally reschedule marijuana was officially posted last week, kicking off a public comment period that’s expected to elicit a major response from supporters and opponents of cannabis reform.

Marijuana reform advocates and stakeholders have made clear that they intend to leverage the opportunity, with some planning to support the reclassification while others intend to call for descheduling cannabis altogether. Prohibitionists are expected to oppose the incremental policy change and seek to keep marijuana in Schedule I, and there’s also a looming threat of litigation.

While DOJ will take all public comments submitted by July 22 into consideration as it weighs the reform, it said in the notice that one of the topics its especially interested in hearing about is the “unique economic impacts” of the rescheduling proposal given that state-level legalization has created a “multibillion dollar industry” that stands to benefit from possible federal tax relief under the reform.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues have reintroduced legislation to federally legalize cannabis and impose certain regulations. The bill’s prospects are dubious in the current divided Congress, however.

Meanwhile, the top Democrat in the U.S. House said 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 Schumer filed.

In a recent interview with Fox News, 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 CSA.

Biden has separately issued two rounds of mass pardons for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses. Again, a Schedule III reclassification would not legalize cannabis or free people still incarcerated over cannabis.

During his run for the presidency, Biden pledged to move cannabis to Schedule II—a stricter category compared to what’s been proposed by his administration.

Biden Finally Acknowledges His Marijuana Pardons Did Not Expunge Records After Repeatedly Claiming They Did

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.