U.S. drug enforcement agency proposes changing marijuana’s classification in a historic move

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will seek to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous substance, multiple sources familiar with the matter told The Associated Press, marking a historic shift in America’s drug policy that could have wide implications nationwide.

The DEA’s proposal, which still requires review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would acknowledge marijuana has less potential for abuse than some of the country’s most dangerous drugs. However, it would not fully legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Confirmation of the agency’s move to the AP on Tuesday by five anonymous sources who spoke on condition of anonymity clears the last major regulatory hurdle before the DEA’s biggest policy change in over 50 years can take effect.

Once OMB signs off, the DEA will seek public comment on the plan to move marijuana from its current classification as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and LSD, to Schedule III, alongside ketamine and some anabolic steroids. After the public comment period the agency would publish the final rule.

It comes after President Joe Biden called for a review of federal marijuana law in October 2022 and has moved to pardon those convicted federally of simple possession of the drug. He has also called on governors and local leaders to take similar steps to erase marijuana convictions.

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

The election year announcement could help Biden, a Democrat, boost flagging support, particularly among young voters.

Schedule III drugs are still controlled substances and subject to rules and regulations, and people who traffic in them without permission could still face federal criminal prosecution.

Some critics argue the DEA shouldn’t change course on marijuana, saying rescheduling isn’t necessary and could lead to harmful side effects.

On the other end of the spectrum, others argue marijuana should be dropped from the controlled-substances list completely and instead regulated like alcohol.

Federal drug policy has lagged behind many states in recent years, with 38 having already legalized medical marijuana and 18 legalizing recreational use.

That’s helped fuel fast growth in the marijuana industry, with an estimated worth of nearly $30 billion. Easing federal regulations could reduce the tax burden that can be 70% or more for businesses, according to industry groups. It could also make it easier to research marijuana, since it’s very difficult to conduct authorized clinical studies on Schedule I substances.

The immediate effect of rescheduling on the nation’s criminal justice system would likely be more muted, since federal prosecutions for simple possession have been fairly rare in recent years. Biden has already pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of possessing marijuana under federal law.


Goodman reported from Miami, Mustian from New Orleans. AP writer Colleen Long contributed.