The DEA is making a major change to the way regulators view cannabis

Federal cannabis policy is about to change in a massive way.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is changing its stance on cannabis, recommending moving it from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act, according to reporting by the Associated Press. Drugs placed on Schedule I, such as heroin and LSD, are considered to have a high potential for abuse and no known medical use.

Moving cannabis to Schedule III does not legalize the drug, but it removes significant regulations.

Drugs listed on Schedule III, such as anabolic steroids and ketamine, are considered to be risky enough to require regulation but have a moderate to low potential for dependence and may be beneficial in medical uses. They are not made available for over-the-counter purchase, like caffeine or aspirin.

From a consumer perspective, the change may not be particularly notable.

Moving cannabis to Schedule III will not open up a national recreational cannabis market like what currently exists in Washington. Cannabis will remain illegal in jurisdictions where it is currently illegal, such as Idaho, until those places change their policies.

The move will not change much in legal markets either. In Washington, the state's Liquor and Cannabis Board will continue to regulate legal cannabis and maintain the authority to issue licenses for businesses to produce or distribute it.

That's not to say the move does not matter.

This is a monumental shift in federal drug policy, arguably the largest since the end of the prohibition on alcohol in 1933.

Cannabis has been considered to be as illegal as can be in the United States since the creation of the drug scheduling system via the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Prior to that, federal regulations restricting cannabis date back over 100 years to the early 1900s.

Until recently, the federal government had been steadfast in its policy on cannabis. Even as more states began to legalize the drug, federal policy remained frozen.

That began to change in September 2022, when the Biden administration announced a number of changes to federal policy, including a request for federal agencies to reconsider whether cannabis should remain at Schedule I.

A year and a half later, this policy change is a direct result of that directive.

What comes next is still unclear. Cannabis will remain a controlled substance under federal law, even though it is legal in 24 states. Perhaps the most important aspect of this policy change is not the visible impact it will have, but rather the symbolic change in the federal stance on cannabis.

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