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DEA Proposes Marijuana Reclassification

A marijuana leaf and a wooden gavel isolated on white background

In a recent historical drug policy move, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plans to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is currently reviewing this proposal while acknowledging the medical benefits of cannabis and deciphering it from some of the nation's most dangerous drugs. However, it won't legalize marijuana for recreational use, and possession could still lead to marijuana charges.

The agency confirmed this move to the AP recently through five people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive regulatory review. This decision clears the last major regulatory obstacle before implementing the most significant DEA policy in over 50 years. It comes after a recommendation from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

When will marijuana reclassification get approved?

After the OMB approves the proposal, the DEA plans to seek public comments on reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug. Currently, marijuana sits alongside heroin and LSD. However, if it's reclassified, it will sit alongside ketamine and some anabolic steroids. Following the public comment period and review by an administrative judge, the agency will publish the final rule.

"Once published by the Federal Register, it will initiate a formal rulemaking process as prescribed by Congress in the Controlled Substances Act," said Justice Department Director of Public Affairs Xochitl Hinojosa in a statement.

Do U.S. officials support marijuana reclassification?

Attorney General Merrick Garland’s signature supports the move with the full weight of the Justice Department, signaling its importance to the Biden administration.

After President Joe Biden called for a review of federal marijuana law in October 2022, he pardoned thousands of Americans convicted federally of simple possession of the drug. He also urged governors and local leaders to take similar actions to erase marijuana convictions.

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” said President Biden. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Biden and a growing number of lawmakers from both major political parties have pushed for the DEA decision as marijuana becomes increasingly decriminalized and accepted. A 2023 Gallup poll found that 70% of adults support legalization, the highest level recorded by the polling firm and more than double the roughly 30% who backed it in 2000.

However, not everyone is fully on board with marijuana reclassification. Jack Riley, a former deputy administrator of the DEA, expressed concerns about the proposed change, stating that he believes marijuana still poses a risk as a "gateway drug," potentially leading to the use of more dangerous substances. However, Riley also stated that reclassification could help law enforcement allocate their resources to more dangerous drugs such as fentanyl.

Are Schedule III drugs legal?

Schedule III drugs are substances classified under the Controlled Substances Act that have a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. These drugs have a potential for abuse less than Schedule I and II drugs but more than Schedule IV. Schedule III drugs can be prescribed for medical use. However, unauthorized possession is still illegal under federal and Florida laws.

In Florida, the legal penalties for possession of Schedule III drugs are severe. Possession of any Schedule III drug without a valid prescription is classified as a third-degree felony. The penalties for this offense include up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000. Penalties can increase for subsequent offenses or distribution, trafficking, or manufacturing of Schedule III drugs.

What is my legal defense if I'm charged with drug possession in Florida?

If you're charged with drug possession in Florida, it's critical to practice your right to remain silent and get legal help from an experienced defense attorney. When developing a defense, your attorney can consider the following arguments:

  • The drugs belonged to someone else.
  • Law enforcement violated your 4th amendment rights with illegal search and seizure.
  • The police entrapped you to commit a crime.
  • You have an approved medical prescription for marijuana or another Schedule III drug.

At Aguilar & Sieron, P.A., in Green Cove Springs, Florida, we have decades of experience handling complicated drug possession cases. Don’t risk severe penalties such as jail time, hefty fines, and other serious consequences. Schedule a free consultation with us today to ensure you're fully informed and well-represented. Contact us today to see how we can help.

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