Activists hold a giant mock joint saying "quit Biden our time" as they march in Washintgon, D.C.

Cannabis activists carry a blow-up joint during an October 24, 2022 rally in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Democratic Senators Push DEA to 'Swiftly Deschedule' Marijuana

The lawmakers asserted that the continued listing of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act has a "devastating impact on our communities and is increasingly out of step with state law and public opinion."

A dozen U.S. senators on Tuesday urged the Biden administration to "swiftly deschedule" marijuana, which remains in the most restrictive federal criminalization category despite being legal for recreational or medicinal use in a majority of states.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.), the lawmakers reject the Department of Health and Human Services' August 2023 recommendation to reclassify cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

According to the DEA, Schedule I drugs—which in addition to marijuana include heroin, MDMA, LSD, and peyote—have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." Schedule III drugs include Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, and anabolic steroids.

"While rescheduling to Schedule III would mark a significant step forward, it would not resolve the worst harms of the current system. Thus, the DEA should deschedule marijuana altogether," the senators wrote. "Marijuana's placement in the CSA has had a devastating impact on our communities and is increasingly out of step with state law and public opinion."

A record 7 in 10 voting-age Americans believe marijuana should be legal, according to Gallup polling published last November, a day after voters made Ohio the 24th state to legalize adult recreational use of the plant.

While thousands of people—exclusively U.S. citizens and permanent residents—have been pardoned for simple federal marijuana possession convictions following presidential proclamations issued in 2022 and last month, Biden has been criticized for refusing to take more meaningful steps to legalize a plant used by half of Americans at least once in their lives.

"The Biden administration has a window of opportunity to deschedule marijuana that has not existed in decades and should reach the right conclusion—consistent with the clear scientific and public health rationale for removing marijuana from Schedule I, and with the imperative to relieve the burden of current federal marijuana policy on ordinary people and small businesses," the senators wrote.

Last September, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee voted 14-9 for the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation Banking Act, which would legally protect banks and credit unions that serve cannabis businesses and bar federal regulators from ordering financial institutions to close their accounts.

In addition to Warren and Fetterman, the senators who signed Tuesday's letter are: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).

"Classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug—something more dangerous than cocaine or fentanyl—has harmed communities and denied critical relief to vulnerable patients," Gillibrand said on social media Sunday. "It's time to legalize and deschedule marijuana altogether."

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