DEA Officials Reportedly At Odds With Biden Admin Over Marijuana Rescheduling Push

Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are reportedly resisting calls to reschedule marijuana, creating tension with the White House as President Joe Biden continues to tout his role in directing the cannabis review.

That’s according to an article published by The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, with the report citing “people familiar with the matter” who say certain DEA officials are disputing scientific findings from the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) that led it to recommend moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Some advocates and stakeholders have challenged the reporting, questioning the possible motivations of the anonymous sources. DEA has only publicly said that it is carrying out its review after receiving the HHS recommendation, without taking a specific position.

In any case, the report says that the DEA officials are unconvinced by the health agency’s conclusion that cannabis hold certain medical value, and they’re concerned about issues related to increased THC potency.

The sources also said that HHS officials have recently requested information from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) on the legal implications of marijuana rescheduling.

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram told lawmakers last year that she would “keep an open mind” and “look at all the research” as her agency carried out its own review.

DEA has stressed that it holds final authority in the scheduling decision, regardless of what HHS recommended. However, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has said it’s “likely” DEA will accept the Schedule III determination based on past scheduling precedent.

While the Wall Street Journal report doesn’t name its sources who said DEA is at odds with the White House, a former DEA administrator who served under the Trump administration was quoted as saying the “science does not support rescheduling of marijuana.”

“Doing that will harm public health and safety,” Timothy Shea, the former DEA head, said.

Marijuana Moment reached out to DEA and the White House for comment, but representatives were not immediately available.

Moving marijuana to Schedule III would not federally legalize it. State cannabis businesses would be able to start taking federal tax deductions that they’re currently barred from under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E, however, and the policy change would also remove certain research barriers.

While the Journal report doesn’t specify what legal consideration HHS has asked DOJ’s OLC to weigh in on, it’s possible that it’s related to international policy implications of rescheduling amid conflicting opinions.

Opponents of marijuana reform have urged DEA to keep cannabis in Schedule I, in part because they say a reclassification would constitute a violation of international treaties to which the U.S. is party.

A Democratic congresswoman recently implored DEA to  “reject any argument” to that end, as did a coalition of 12 senators who pointed out in a separate letter to that the United Nations (UN) has revised global cannabis scheduling policies and allowed other member states, such as Canada, to legalize and regulate marijuana without penalty. Those lawmakers urged DEA to legalize marijuana completely.

Legal experts have also disputed the opponents’ argument, asserting that a move to Schedule III would better uphold the country’s broader obligations under international law to regulate cannabis in a way that protects public health and safety.

Separately, the UN’s drug control body recently reiterated that it does consider legalizing marijuana for non-medical or non-scientific purposes a violation of international treaties.

The president hasn’t explicitly voiced support for the Schedule III recommendation, though he’s signaled that he wants to see cannabis rescheduled and repeatedly promoted his move to direct the scheduling review.

Most recently, Biden talked about the review directive, as well as his cannabis pardon proclamation, during his State of the Union address last week—a historic first.

The timeline for DEA’s scheduling decision is unknown, though there’s a general expectation that it will be completed this year ahead of the November election.

Based on a recent poll, Biden’s cannabis moves stand to benefit him in the election. The survey found the president’s favorability spiked after people were made aware of the possibility that marijuana could be rescheduled under the Biden-initiated review.

The Biden administration was recently pressed to reschedule marijuana by two coalitions representing military veterans and law enforcement—including a group that counts DEA’s Milgram among its members.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.—

On the president’s pardon action, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment last month that the clemency should be “extended all the way out, and any unintended or intended consequences of the war on drugs should be dealt with to repair the damage.”

Former Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), however, told Marijuana Moment that he’s been “very pleased” with Biden’s clemency actions, arguing that the president has “taken some pretty, in my opinion, bold steps.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army recently clarified in a branch-wide notice that marijuana possession violations under the military drug code weren’t eligible under the president’s pardons. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) called it a “mistake” to exclude military from the relief.

Vice President Kamala Harris’s office has separately been reaching out to people who’ve received marijuana possession pardons—seeking assurance that the Justice Department certification process is going smoothly and engaging in broader discussions about cannabis policy reform.

New Hampshire GOP Governor Reaffirms He’d Sign Marijuana Legalization Bill With State-Run Model Despite Personal Reservations

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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