Justice Department takes next step to reclassify marijuana

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department took a formal step Thursday toward reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug.

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Authorities submitted a notice to the Office of the Federal Register that proposes rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance, according to White House officials. The shift would acknowledge that marijuana has less potential for abuse than some of the most dangerous drugs — like heroin, ecstasy and LSD — that it is currently classified alongside.

Schedule I drugs have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to officials. Schedule III drugs carry “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” and include substances such as Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, steroids and testosterone.

President Joe Biden announced the proposed change in a video shared Thursday on social media, calling it “monumental” and “an important move towards reversing longstanding inequities.”

“Look folks, no one should be in jail merely for using or possessing marijuana. Period,” the president said. “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs.”

After the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on it. The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency will then be able to assign someone to consider the evidence and make a final recommendation. The Justice Department will then be tasked with making a final determination on the scheduling of the substance.

Since taking office in 2021, Biden has pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and urged state governors to do the same.

Thirty-eight states, three U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical use while 24 states, two U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., have legalized possession of small amounts for recreational use by adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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