The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) might finally budge on it is decades-long cannabis criminalization, but don’t hold your breath for legal weed shops just yet. In a new report published Tuesday, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) explained the limitations of rescheduling, stressing state-legal markets would still be in federal crosshairs, facing potential raids and prosecution.
While rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I (no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse) to Schedule III (accepted medical use and low potential for abuse) sounds promising, it would not necessarily legalize the booming state-legal cannabis industry.
“Moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, without other legal changes, would not bring the state-legal medical or recreational marijuana industry into compliance with federal controlled substances law,” according to the CRS report.
“With respect to medical marijuana, a key difference between placement in Schedule I and Schedule III is that substances in Schedule III have an accepted medical use and may lawfully be dispensed by prescription, while Substances in Schedule I cannot,” wrote Marijuana Moment, noting that for weed to be legally prescribed, the Food and Drug Administration would need to approve its use and plant medicines do not typically go through that approval process.
For example, you would need a doctor’s note for your medical marijuana and a prescription filled at a DEA-registered pharmacy, subject to federal regulations that would likely be far stricter than existing state laws.
“If marijuana were moved to Schedule III, applicable penalties for some offenses would be reduced,” the CRS says. “However, CSA [Controlled Substance Act] penalties that apply to activities involving marijuana specifically, such as the quantity-based mandatory minimum sentences discussed above, would not change as a result of rescheduling.”
Although rescheduling would loosen tax burdens for cannabis businesses enabling them to deduct expenses and it would reduce some penalties — but not all.
So, whether rescheduled or not, the federal hammer could still fall on individuals and businesses operating outside state guidelines. Although a congressional rider protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal crackdowns remains in effect, shielding compliant patients and businesses from DEA interference.
“Thus, so long as the current rider remains in effect, participants in the state-legal medical marijuana industry who comply with state law would be shielded from federal prosecution,” the CRS report notes. “If the rider were to lapse or be repealed, these persons would again be subject to prosecution at the discretion of DOJ.”
The CRS pointed out that lawmakers have the power to alter marijuana’s legal status, independent of the DEA’s decision, noting that Congress “has broad authority to do so before or after DEA makes any scheduling decision.” A plethora of bills aimed at loosening federal controls already exist, while some even advocate for stricter regulations.
In the end, the CRS report serves as a sobering reminder: the road to legal weed is winding, paved with unexpected detours. While rescheduling offers limited benefits, the political will of Congress is key.
Read more at Marijuana Moment
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