A group of 12 Senate Democrats on Monday urged the Biden administration to remove marijuana from the list of harmful drugs outlawed by the federal government, arguing that simply reclassifying it as less dangerous would be insufficient.
Marijuana is currently classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive category. In the letter, addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Anne Milgram, the senators said a proposal to reschedule the drug would be “a significant step forward,” but warned it “would not resolve the worst harms of the current system.”
Descheduling marijuana entirely would have beneficial knockdown effects, they argued, including removing criminal penalties that have disproportionately penalized Black and Brown communities; restoring access for those convicted of cannabis offenses to programs like nutrition assistance and public housing; and easing the strain between states that have legalized marijuana’s recreational use and the federal government.
“The case for removing marijuana from Schedule I is overwhelming,” the letter reads. “The DEA should do so by removing cannabis from the CSA altogether, rather than simply placing it in a lower schedule.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led the effort, alongside Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Other signatories include Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Jeffrey Merkley (Ore.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Alex Padilla (Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and John Hickenlooper (Colo.), plus independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
Twenty three states, two territories and the District of Columbia have legalized adult recreational marijuana use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan policy tracking group.
The Department of Health and Human Services currently considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, a category reserved for substances with both a high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use.”
By contrast, fentanyl is a Schedule II substance, thanks to its status as a component in FDA-approved medical products. Alcohol is not scheduled under the CSA.
“The Biden Administration has a window of opportunity to deschedule marijuana that has not existed in decades,” the Senate letter concludes, “and should reach the right conclusion.”