Feds want to reclassify Marijuana as a lower risk drug

Feds want to reclassify marijuana as a lower risk drug

Federal Recommendation to Reclassify Marijuana Could Impact NJ's Medical Program.

A recent recommendation by a federal agency to change the legal status of marijuana to a less restrictive drug category could have a big impact on New Jersey’s medical cannabis program, according to both state advocates and federal officials.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services recommended to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in August that cannabis be reclassified from a “Schedule I” drug to a less regulated “Schedule III” drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the Congressional Research Service reported last month.

The change could open the door for more research on the plant and fewer legal restrictions for medical cannabis patients in New Jersey and across the country.

But, the change would not make the sale or use of recreational weed legal on the federal level. And it won’t bring any significant changes to New Jersey’s legal recreational cannabis program or similar programs in other states, congressional researchers said.

“The most profound impact this is going to have in our state is the opportunity now to really supercharge the medical side,” said Bill Caruso, a cannabis attorney and co-founder of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, an advocacy coalition.

“You’re talking about health care providers being able to treat with cannabis. It’s research, it’s prescribing, it’s physician-led efforts,” said Caruso, who helped work on New Jersey’s first medical cannabis law in 2010.

Changing cannabis to a Schedule III drug could also help with “destigmatization,” he said.

The federal Controlled Substances Act places all controlled substances into five “schedules” related to their medicinal use, risks and potential for abuse. Those in Schedule I are considered the most dangerous and addictive.

Since 1970, cannabis has been classified as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin, restricting its use for research and medicinal purposes, said Ken Wolski, executive director of New Jersey’s Coalition for Medical Marijuana, a public charity established in 2003.

If the recommendation to reschedule cannabis is approved, it will be grouped in the same category as drugs like testosterone and ketamine, and classified by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency as having “moderate to low potential” for dependence.

While no decisions have been made yet, the Congressional Research Service said the recommendation is “likely” to be approved. The recommendation to make the change is based on the Food and Drug Administration’s 2022 review of cannabis requested by President Joe Biden’s administration.

Rescheduling cannabis could affect state medical marijuana programs, congressional researchers said.

In 2010, former Gov. Jon Corzine legalized medical cannabis in New Jersey, making it the 14th state to do so. Gov. Phil Murphy expanded the program five years ago, allowing doctors to recommend medical marijuana to help treat conditions such as anxiety, chronic pain, migraines and Tourette’s syndrome.

As of this month, there were over 98,000 medical cannabis patients in New Jersey and nearly 50 dispensaries where patients can buy legal weed.

Because of the drug’s current classification, registered, lawful medical cannabis patients can be denied access to assisted housing, visas, firearms and opportunities in federal employment and military service, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Even though New Jersey legalized and decriminalized recreational weed in 2021, marijuana possession and use are still prohibited at the federal level, subjecting the state’s patients to the same legal limitations.

“You can’t use your marijuana in a hospital ... or a nursing home and these are some of the sickest patients who need medical marijuana the most,” said Wolski.

New Jersey — which is known for having some of the highest medical cannabis costs in the nation — has considered legislation to alleviate the financial burden on medical patients. But, as long as the federal government continues to classify the drug as an illegal substance with no medicinal value, health insurance will not cover its costs.

Placing cannabis in Schedule III would ease the restrictions, making state medical programs “a little less illegal,” advocates said.

It could also allow businesses to lawfully manufacture, distribute and possess medical cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, while still being subject to federal laws and regulations, supporters said.

Schedule I drugs are nearly impossible to research, said Caruso. Reclassifying marijuana could ease research regulations, potentially allowing more studies to be done on the drug.

However, it could take years before cannabis gets rescheduled and even longer for large scale clinical research trials to take place, Wolski said.

“Until these research studies are conducted, I think ... hospitals would be reluctant to accept just medical marijuana as medicine,” he said.

Some anti-legalization groups believe marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug.

The recommendation to reschedule cannabis “flies in the face of science, reeks of politics,” and helps a weed industry “desperately looking for legitimacy,” Kevin Sabet, a former Obama administration official who head the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told the Associated Press earlier this year.

While some legalization supporters and weed trade groups see potential benefits in rescheduling, others argue that the recommendation doesn’t go far enough and marijuana should be “descheduled” — or completely removed from the controlled substances list.

That would remove all federal legal restrictions on both recreational and medicinal cannabis, proponents say.

“Our ultimate goal should remain descheduling, full legalization and a thriving cannabis market that allows individuals to flourish without unnecessary intrusion,” the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association said in a press release.

For more Cannabis News like this, circle back to 420intel.com!


420 Intel News | 420 Advertising | Cannabis Business News | Medical Marijuana News | Recreational Marijuana News

Region: New Jersey

Disqus content widget