US unveils proposal to ease marijuana restrictions

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds marijuana for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday unveiled a historic proposal to ease restrictions on marijuana, a rule that, if adopted, would also allow more research into its medicinal benefits.

The proposal, first announced in April, would reclassify cannabis from a so-called Schedule One drug to a Schedule Three drug. Schedule 1 drugs, such as heroin, are considered highly addictive and have no medical benefit, while Schedule 3 drugs are considered to have moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it found “credible scientific support for the use of marijuana in the treatment of chronic pain, medically related anorexia, and nausea and vomitings “.

“Furthermore, no safety concerns were identified in FDA’s review that would indicate that the medical use of marijuana presents unacceptably high safety risks,” the proposal states.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat running for re-election in November, has launched a review of the drug’s classification in 2022, fulfilling an important campaign promise for left-leaning members of his political base.

Currently, the drug falls under the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) class that includes heroin and LSD. He would be moved to a group containing ketamine and Tylenol with codeine.

The reclassification of marijuana represents a first step toward bridging the gap between state and federal cannabis laws. The drug is legal in some form in nearly 40 states.

Even if reclassifying the drug doesn’t make it legal, it would open the door to more research and medical use, help reduce criminal penalties and increase investment in the cannabis sector.

In a new legal opinion released Thursday, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel criticized the DEA’s long-standing approach to how it determines whether a drug has an acceptable medical use, calling it ‘”unacceptably narrow”.

The opinion also believes that the DEA should “give great deference” to the scientific and medical determinations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Under the proposal, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Health recommended that the DEA place marijuana on Schedule Three in August 2023.

The DEA, however, has not yet made its own decision.

If marijuana classification were to be relaxed at the federal level, cannabis companies could reap significant benefits, such as eligibility for listing on major stock exchanges and more generous tax deductions.

Additionally, they might face fewer restrictions from banks. Because marijuana is federally illegal, most U.S. banks do not lend to or service cannabis companies, leading many to resort to cash transactions.

The public will have 60 days to submit comments on the Justice Department’s proposal.

A public hearing on the proposal may also be requested.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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