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The Department of Health and Human Services Recommends Relaxing Marijuana Laws: Experts Analyze the Implications

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A groundbreaking suggestion from a high-ranking official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could potentially reshape the federal approach to marijuana. The recommendation, outlined in a letter dated Aug. 29, urges the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act, according to Bloomberg News.

To gather further insights, Benzinga reached out to prominent figures in the cannabis industry, including Kim Rivers (CEO of Trulieve Cannabis Corp), George Archos (CEO of Verano Holdings Corp), Cory Gardner (NCR Advisory Member), Charlie Bachtell (CEO and co-founder of Cresco Labs), and Boris Jordan (founder and chairman of Curaleaf Holdings).

Confirmation of the Recommendation

Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levineโ€™s recommendation was influenced by a review conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to President Bidenโ€™s pardon of federal offenses for simple marijuana possession in October. This review, initiated by the Presidentโ€™s request to review marijuanaโ€™s scheduling, has prompted HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to confirm the agencyโ€™s scheduling recommendations to the DEA.

An HHS spokesperson stated, โ€œFollowing the data and science, HHS has expeditiously responded to President Bidenโ€™s directive to HHS Secretary [Xavier Becerra] and provided its scheduling recommendation for marijuana to the DEA on August 29, 2023.โ€

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the process but emphasized that it is an independent effort led by HHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Implications and Repercussions

If implemented, this reclassification would signify a significant departure from marijuanaโ€™s current Schedule I status, which categorizes it as having no medical value and places it alongside narcotics like heroin. Rescheduling marijuana to Schedule III would relax federal regulations, potentially enabling greater medical research opportunities and access to banking services for cannabis businesses.

The current Schedule I classification hinders cannabis companies from accessing banking services, engaging in interstate commerce, and conducting essential medical research. While many U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, the FDA holds the sole authority to grant approval for medicinal drug usage nationwide. Reclassification could bridge the gap between federal and state laws, offering a more consistent legal landscape.

The push for reclassification aligns with various legislative efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana at both the state and federal levels. It also reflects a growing public sentiment for a nuanced and evidence-based approach to drug classification and legalization.

Insights from Prominent Figures in the Cannabis Industry

In an exclusive conversation with Benzinga Cannabis, former United States Senator Cory Gardner remarked, โ€œThis is a new chapter in how the executive branch handles this issue. While monumental, congressional action, including the Safe Banking Act, is still necessary.โ€

Kim Rivers of Trulieve Cannabis Corp expressed the significance of the recommended rescheduling, stating, โ€œThis is a monumental policy change that will have practical impacts on our business and further legitimize the industry based on scientific evidence and a full review by the FDA.โ€

Charlie Bachtell of Cresco Labs referred to this as a โ€œwatershed momentโ€ and emphasized the potential removal of the negative impact of I.R.S. code 280e. He also highlighted the importance of federal reform for those negatively affected by cannabis laws not directly involved in the industry.

Boris Jordan of Curaleaf Holdings expressed anticipation for this development, stating, โ€œThis recommendation follows President Bidenโ€™s request to review the matter, and we anticipate a potential acceleration in the decision-making process due to upcoming elections.โ€

George Archos of Verano Holdings emphasized the practical benefits of reclassification, including improved access to capital and banking services, particularly for social equity entrepreneurs.

  • Stay tuned for full interviews with these five cannabis industry insiders on Benzinga Cannabis.

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