Biden Administration Official Disputes Rumors Of Imminent Marijuana Scheduling Decision Amid Heightened Speculation

Amid swirling rumors about the possibility of an imminent cannabis policy announcement from the White House, a Biden administration official told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday that they’d “wave off” the speculation.

Industry stakeholders and several prominent cannabis journalists have signaled in recent days that an announcement—possibly pertaining to the ongoing review into marijuana scheduling—is coming within days. But that’s not the case, the administration source says.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did officially disclose in December that it had advised DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). It made that recommendation following a review under an October 2022 directive from President Joe Biden.

But while high-profile lawmakers on both sides of the marijuana debate have been recently promoting their positions on the scheduling discussion and urging DEA to act accordingly, the Biden administration official who asked not to be named told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that they’d “wave off” the rumors.

They did not add any additional details about the current timeline for a decision.

It’s possible, of course, that the official who spoke to Marijuana Moment may not be aware of a possible forthcoming announcement. Sensitive disclosures, like the highly anticipated marijuana scheduling decision, are often held close to the vest. But claims of an imminent action have yet to be verified, despite a surge of speculation from the cannabis media and industry space on social media.

One of the most circulated examples came from Adrian Snead, a partner at the law firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP and former staffer of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) who helped craft a congressional cannabis banking bill.

In a LinkedIn post on Tuesday, Snead wrote that a “big” marijuana announcement would be coming from the White House “this week.” He cited a “highly placed” Biden administration source.

Others, including Green Market Report’s John Schroyer, Chris Roberts of MJ Biz Daily and The New York Times’ Ashley Southall, have similarly indicated recently that sources told them of a potential announcement within days—or at least by the end of the first quarter of 2024.

To be sure, the idea that the Biden administration will announce a scheduling decision this year has been taken by most observers as a given. That’s based on DEA precedent, as well as the politics of the issue that could give the president a favorability boost ahead of the November election.

But for now, an administration source who spoke to Marijuana Moment is chalking up predictions about imminent policymaking as nothing more than the fruits of an eager rumor mill, driven in large part by cannabis stakeholders who stand to benefit from a Schedule III reclassification that would free them up to take federal tax deductions that they’re currently barred from under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.

Adding to the speculation is the fact that congressional lawmakers have been especially active in recent days in their advocacy for action (or inaction) on cannabis scheduling matters.

Last week, for example, a Republican congressman who has long opposed marijuana reform is told DEA that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came to a “misguided conclusion” to recommend rescheduling cannabis—challenging the health agency’s scientific standards and imploring DEA to dismiss them as it prepares to make a final determination.

A separate letter sent to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram last week—led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other champions of marijuana reform—urged DEA to go further than rescheduling by fully removing cannabis from the CSA.

Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said last month that his agency has “communicated” its “position” on marijuana rescheduling to DEA and has continued to offer additional information to assist with the final determination.

DEA has steadfastly maintained it has “final authority” over the matter and can make any scheduling determination that it sees fit.

“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,” the agency said in a letter to lawmakers last month. “DEA is now conducting its review.”

The statement came in response to an earlier letter from 31 bipartisan lawmakers, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), that urged the agency to consider the “merits” of legalization as it carried out its review.

Prior to HHS releasing a trove of documents concerning its cannabis recommendation, a coalition of 12 Democratic state attorneys general implored DEA to move forward with federal marijuana rescheduling, calling the policy change a “public safety imperative.”

In another letter in December, 29 former U.S. attorneys called on the Biden administration to leave cannabis in Schedule I.

Also that month, the governors of six U.S. states—Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Louisiana—sent a letter to Biden calling on the administration to reschedule marijuana by the end of last year.

Meanwhile, six former DEA heads and five former White House drug czars sent a letter to the attorney general and current DEA administrator voicing opposition to the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana. They also made a questionable claim about the relationship between drug schedules and criminal penalties in a way that could exaggerate the potential impact of the incremental reform.

Signatories include DEA and Office of National Drug Control Policy heads under multiple administrations led by presidents of both major parties.

In October, Advocates and lawmakers who support cannabis reform marked the one-year anniversary of Biden’s mass marijuana pardon and scheduling directive by calling on him to do more—including by expanding the scope of relief that his pardon had and by expressly supporting federal legalization.

Two GOP senators, including the lead Republican sponsor of a marijuana banking bill that cleared a key committee in September, also filed legislation late last year to prevent federal agencies from rescheduling cannabis without tacit approval from Congress.

A coalition of 14 Republican congressional lawmakers, meanwhile, separately urged DEA to “reject” the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana and instead keep it in the most restrictive category under the CSA.

A recent poll found that about one-third of marijuana consumers say they would go back to the illicit market if cannabis was rescheduled and only made legally available as a Food and Drug Administration- (FDA) approved prescription drug.

Another recent survey found that President Joe Biden stands to make significant political gains if marijuana is rescheduled under his administrative directive. Of course, Biden doesn’t directly control the final outcome.

The president has routinely touted his 2022 scheduling directive, as well as a mass pardon he granted for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses. He followed up on that action in December with a renewed and expanded pardon proclamation. The Justice Department has already begun issuing certifications for people who applied under the second round.

Last weekend, meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris said the administration’s move to pardon people for federal marijuana possession offenses is an example of how it is delivering for Americans, particularly young and Black voters who could be key to Biden’s reelection bid this year.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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