Colorado Gov. Sends Letter to Commend Biden Administration for Making Progress on Rescheduling Cannabis

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Sept. 5 regarding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) recommendation for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule III substance.

According to The Gazette, Polis’ letter addressed this recommendation, and applauded Biden on leading an administration toward progress. “We are pleased to hear that you have recently received Health and Human Services’s (HHS) recommendation to move cannabis to Schedule III,” Polis began in his letter. “It’s about time.”

“This is an historic moment and we owe you and your administration a debt of gratitude for your leadership on catching up with where the science is,” Polis continued. “Cannabis’ current classification under federal law as a Schedule I drug is contradicted by the scientific evidence. The notion, as previously considered, that cannabis has no accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse, and no accepted safety standards even under medical supervision has been widely disproven, HHS’s recommendation is evidence-based and a move in the right direction.”

He continues that he offers his “enthusiastic support” while the country waits for the DEA to respond, but in the meantime, urges the president to begin thinking about what else needs to be done to make moving cannabis to Schedule III ideal for cannabis businesses. “I ask you to simultaneously consider a few next steps in the near future by showing your support for access to banking for the state-regulated marketplace, reduced criminal penalties for possession and distribution of cannabis, addressing immigration-related consequences and enforcement discretion from FDA,” Polis wrote.

Polis also addresses the issues that still need to be resolved, such as banking. He wrote that if cannabis becomes a Schedule III substance, banks would be free to serve cannabis businesses and that tax code 280E would no longer be necessary. “The most efficient way to address these public health risks is to displace the illicit marketplace and replace it with a legal, safe, regulated, and age-verified system,” Polis continued. “But we can only do that by promoting federal policies that allow for profitability in these well-established state-regulated marketplaces. That equates to [Internal Revenue Code] Section 280E reform and access to traditional banking services.”

Polis noted that rescheduling cannabis will become a hallmark accomplishment of Biden’s term as president. “Your administration will soon be credited with saving hundreds of thousands of jobs and significant tax revenue for the states when DEA solidifies FDA’s recommendation,” Polis writes. “While federal prohibition continues, more than three-fourths of the states have legalized medicinal marijuana, and more than 20 have legalized marijuana for adult use.”

“Let’s celebrate this progress and work together to finish the job,” his letter to Biden concluded. “We greatly appreciate your leadership, and please come visit Colorado again soon.”

Nearly a year ago on Oct. 6, 2022, Biden made a historic announcement to pardon of thousands of federal cannabis prisoners. He also called for the HHS secretary and the attorney general to “to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law,” Biden said. “Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances. This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine—the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic.”

In response to Biden’s request last year, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, Rachel Levine, sent a letter to DEA Administrator Ann Milgram on Aug. 29 regarding recommendations for moving cannabis into the Schedule III category. “Following the data and science, HHS has expeditiously responded to President Biden’s directive to HHS Secretary [Xavier Becerra] and provided its scheduling recommendation for marijuana to the DEA on August 29, 2023,” an HHS spokesperson said.

According to a statement provided to The Hill by a DEA spokesperson, it’s the DEA’s turn to review the recommendations. “As part of this process, HHS conducted a scientific and medical evaluation for consideration by DEA. DEA has the final authority to schedule or reschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act. DEA will now initiate its review,” the spokesperson said. It is unclear how long it will take for the DEA to review the recommendations, or how the department will respond.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 labeled cannabis as a Schedule I substance over 50 years ago. Schedule I substances currently include cannabis, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote, among others, which are described as having no medical benefits and a high potential for abuse. Schedule II substances also have high potential for abuse, but potentially lead to “severe psychological or physical dependence,” such as Vicodin, cocaine, meth, oxycodone, fentanyl, Adderall, and more. Schedule III substances however, are simply drugs with “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence,” like ketamine and testosterone.

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