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Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Reschedules Cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III

Rescheduling is not legalization, and the existing penalties for cannabis remain unchanged.


May 1, 2024 ( Newswire) In October of 2022, President Biden made a series of historic cannabis-related executive actions, including initiating a review by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice on how cannabis is scheduled under federal law. In August 2023, HHS recommended rescheduling cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug and referred it to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for final approval.

Today, the DEA has decided to approve the HHS recommendation and reschedule cannabis to Schedule III. This historic announcement is the culmination of years of advocacy by Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and other advocacy groups to push the federal government to better reflect the public's view on cannabis. While the move is undoubtedly a step forward for the movement, it does not meet LPP's goal to fully remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and its associated criminal penalties.

So then, what exactly does this rescheduling change mean for cannabis justice reform?

While the action could result in some favorable tax and banking reform for the cannabis industry and more dedicated research for cannabis patients, there are no changes in how the criminal legal system punishes cannabis users. Rescheduling is a peripheral change that signals the reevaluation of cannabis, but not the release of cannabis prisoners or relief for those who continue to be burdened by the lasting consequences of the carceral system. In short, this announcement represents progress but not justice.

Despite not achieving full legalization, we must use this historic moment to push the fight for cannabis justice forward by broadening the scope of Biden's cannabis clemency action, working with Congress and certain administrative agencies to both provide retroactive relief and to reduce prospective cannabis criminal enforcement, and incentivizing states to provide broad retroactive relief, particularly in states that have adopted a fully legal cannabis market. Learn more about ways cannabis justice advocates can leverage this change to advance reforms in our recent memo.

Last Prisoner Project is committed to continuing the fight for cannabis justice until everyone is fully free from the harms of the War on Drugs. This means advocating for cannabis to be fully descheduled. To ensure we keep the pressure on descheduling, retroactive relief, and full legalization, Last Prisoner Project helped organize the largest bipartisan group of cannabis advocates in Washington D.C. on April 18th, 2024 for the 420 Unity Day of Action to urge Congress and the President to take further action.

Last Prisoner Project believes that complete descheduling is a necessary step towards correcting past injustices and creating a fair and equitable criminal legal system. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that individuals burdened with past cannabis convictions are resentenced and have their records expunged, regardless of the federal scheduling decision.

As part of the original scheduling announcement, President Biden also pardoned individuals convicted of certain federal cannabis offenses. LPP has pushed to turn these pardons to progress and ensure the promise of clemency is fulfilled at the federal and state levels. While rescheduling has no immediate effect on those imprisoned, the public can urge their executives to take action now and right history with the stroke of a pen.

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