DEA To Congress: We Hold ‘Final Authority’ On Cannabis Rescheduling, Overruling Biden’s Health Authorities

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told House lawmakers that the agency is “now conducting its review” of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, according to a letter obtained by Punchbowl News.

What Happened: The fate of marijuana’s federal classification hangs in the balance as the DEA asserts its “final authority” on rescheduling, regardless of an August letter recommending that it reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance.

Once the HHS made its recommendation, according to the letter, which was sent last month, “DEA conducts its own review,” reported Punchbowl.

“DEA has the final authority to schedule, reschedule, or deschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act, after considering the relevant statutory and regulatory criteria and HHS’s scientific and medical evaluation. DEA is now conducting its review.”

This power play throws a wrench into ongoing efforts underway for broader cannabis reform, leaving lawmakers and observers frustrated by the agency’s stance.

DEA Shrouded In Secrecy: In response to a bipartisan plea for considering full descheduling, DEA’s acting chief of congressional affairs offered only procedural comment in a recent letter. While confirming a review initiated under President Biden’s directive, the agency provided no timeline or insight into its position on rescheduling, let alone descheduling.

The DEA letter seemingly brushes aside calls for a more progressive stance. This assertion ignited further tension, with critics arguing that Congress’s desire for legalization and the evolving public opinion should hold sway. A recent Gallup poll showed seven in 10 Americans think marijuana use should be legal, the highest level yet.  

Lawmakers Respond: “Marijuana’s continued scheduling is arcane and out-of-touch,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, countered. His October letter, signed by 31 lawmakers, urged the DEA to recognize the “merits” of legalization during their review.

HHS Recommendation Under Wraps

Meanwhile, the details of HHS’s rationale for placing cannabis in Schedule III remain shrouded in secrecy. Despite the voluminous justification submitted to the DEA, the public has been granted only heavily redacted glimpses into the agency’s reasoning. 

The Congressional Research Service, however, had suggested the DEA would likely follow the HHS’s recommendation based on historical precedent. Yet, the agency’s opaque posture leaves advocates and experts wondering if the DEA will honor the public’s will or remain tethered to outdated drug war policies.

Photo: DEA handout

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