Last week’s news that the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) recommended that cannabis be moved from Schedule I (drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” — for example, heroin, LSD, and quaaludes) to Schedule III (drugs with “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” — for example, ketamine, anabolic steroids, and some acetaminophen-codeine formulations) sure got people talking.

Some were thrilled, believing this recommendation is the first key step in what will be a sequence of steps with positive ramifications for cannabis patients, caregivers, adult users, and the cannabis businesses that support them.

With the obvious impact this decision could have on all cannabis companies, current and future, across the US, we put together a comprehensive guide on all the latest. Here you’ll learn –

  • What the media is saying
  • The potential outcomes

Keep reading for a summary of the most imperative information to know now.

The Latest Media Reports

As we mentioned – the announcement that cannabis could potentially move from Schedule I to III had the media swirling with commentary. Here’s what the media and key industry players have said thus far.

History Being Made

MJBiz Daily quoted Shane Pennington, a partner at Washington DC-based law firm Porter Wright, as saying, “It’s historic. It’s the biggest thing that’s happened in cannabis reform at the federal level, ever.” Cannabis investors were also enthusiastic and significantly bumped up cannabis stocks in the days following the announcement.

Too little, Too Late

Others cite the remaining divide between federal and state cannabis laws and regulations and expressed frustration that the potential move fell far short of what is needed to have a healthy, vibrant, legal cannabis industry in the United States. Those in this camp advocate removing cannabis, like alcohol and tobacco, from the controlled substances list altogether, which would allow it to be regulated, just in a less restrictive way.

Division vs Legitimacy

Both ABC News and NBC New York reported that National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Deputy Director Paul Armentano said that reclassifying cannabis would be “perpetuating the existing divide between state and federal marijuana policies.” 

Others criticized the move altogether. NBC New York reported that Kevin Sabet, a former Obama administration drug policy official and president of the national anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana said the HHS recommendation “flies in the face of science, reeks of politics,” and gives a regrettable nod to an industry “desperately looking for legitimacy.”


What happens next?

While the HHS recommended that cannabis be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III, it’s up to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to review the information and conduct a process that includes opening the topic to public comment. Dentons wrote, “…rescheduling could take months or could be final within weeks. With many unknowns remaining, the point is this:  today’s news is a beginning, not an end. Nevertheless, it is a historic moment in the regulation of cannabis and a positive sign for the future.”

How would moving cannabis to Schedule III affect the legal US cannabis industry? Here’s what it would and would not do.

If Cannabis is Schedule III, It Would:

  • Ease up restrictions on cannabis research by removing many of the barriers currently in place that limit obtaining and scientifically investigating the plant
  • Free cannabis operators from the restrictions of U.S. Tax Code Section 280E and allow them to take standard business deductions such as rent and payroll, improving cash flow and potentially allowing a higher percentage of cannabis operators to break even or turn a profit
  • Make cannabis subject to production, record-keeping, and other requirements of Schedule III drugs, potentially adding to existing state rules and regulations

If Cannabis is Schedule III, It May:

  • Spur states that had been hesitant to legalize medical or adult-use cannabis to develop legal programs

If Cannabis is Schedule III, It Would Not:

  • Simplify or reduce the myriad of state laws and regulations that apply to legal cannabis operations
  • Legalize cannabis at the federal level

The Final Word

Like most announcements, last week’s news had mixed reviews. Personally, I agree with the Denton folks. The announcement was historic; while not as great as a descheduling recommendation, it is a hugely positive step for the industry and the patients and adult users we serve.

So, what do you think? Will the potential rescheduling be a boon to the U.S. legal cannabis industry, or should we push for more extensive reform? 

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