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Justice Department Proposes Reclassification of Marijuana as Less Dangerous Drug

A Historic Shift in U.S. Drug Policy

The Justice Department has taken a groundbreaking step by formally moving to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug, marking a significant change in decades of U.S. drug policy. A proposed rule submitted to the federal register acknowledges the medical benefits of cannabis and its lower potential for abuse compared to some of the nation’s most dangerous substances.

The Proposed Reclassification

Attorney General Merrick Garland approved the plan, which does not legalize marijuana for recreational use but recommends moving it from its current classification as a Schedule I drug—alongside heroin and LSD—to Schedule III, placing it in the same category as ketamine and some anabolic steroids. This reclassification follows a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services, prompted by President Joe Biden’s 2022 directive to review the drug’s status.

Public Comment and Potential Impact

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will open a 60-day public comment period on the proposal, which could then undergo a review by an administrative judge. This potentially lengthy process is part of a broader effort by Biden and lawmakers from both parties to modernize federal drug policy as marijuana becomes increasingly accepted and decriminalized across the U.S.

Presidential Support and Election Year Implications

President Biden, who has also pardoned thousands of individuals convicted of simple marijuana possession at the federal level, emphasized the significance of this move. “This is monumental,” Biden said in a video statement. “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs.” This announcement could bolster Biden’s support among younger voters in the upcoming election.

The Current Landscape of Marijuana Legalization

Currently, 38 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 24 have approved it for recreational use, reflecting a shift in public perception and policy. The marijuana industry has grown rapidly, now valued at nearly $30 billion. Reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule III drug could ease federal regulations, reduce the tax burden for marijuana businesses, and facilitate research by making it easier to conduct authorized clinical studies.

Ongoing Debates and Future Prospects

Despite widespread support, some critics argue against changing marijuana’s classification, citing potential negative consequences. Others advocate for treating marijuana similarly to alcohol. However, the proposed reclassification by the DEA represents a substantial step toward aligning federal policy with state laws and public opinion.

The notice of proposed rulemaking initiates a period of public engagement and review, signaling a historic shift in how marijuana is regulated and perceived in the United States.

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