In response to a 2015 letter drafted by eight senators proclaiming the need for federal funding of research on the medical benefits of marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has written a letter to U.S. senators signaling its plan to consider rescheduling marijuana in “the first half of 2016.”
That 2015 letter, drafted by Senator Elizabeth Warren and other democratic senators, wasn’t the first to request the reclassification of marijuana. The DEA has considered several petitions to reschedule marijuana and each time decided ultimately to keep it a Schedule 1 substance. The DEA reserves schedule 1 for drugs it deems to have the highest potential for abuse, and for those which have no acceptable medical use.
The DEA’s response letter does not indicate whether or not it will reclassify marijuana, but a decision to do so would certainly have consequences. Many states have already passed laws which regulate the growing and dispensing of marijuana to those who have a license. If marijuana is reclassified, those licensees will have to face federal regulation. Reclassification of marijuana could also lead to more research on marijuana’s medical benefits, and may even lead to cannabis-prescription drugs.
For now, the DEA’s letter only states that it is considering the change, adding that it has received recommendations about reclassification from agencies like HHS. Once the DEA announces its decision, the public is invited to voice opinions about the decision at an administrative hearing. After that hearing the DEA would make a final determination on its decision (though even then a decision could be challenged in court by those who disagree.) Until then, marijuana remains on schedule 1, where it has for decades.