US Justice Department Submits Proposal to Potentially Reclassify Cannabis

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The US Attorney General has initiated the process to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a less-restrictive Schedule III substance.

The US Department of Justice has announced that the Attorney General, Merrick Garland, has officially submitted a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the federal scheduling of cannabis (“marijuana”). The notice was submitted to the Federal Register and begins the process of possibly moving cannabis from its current status as a Schedule I substance to a less-strict Schedule III classification. Schedule I drugs, including heroin and LSD, are considered to have no medical value and have high potential for abuse. This news comes after the April 30, 2024 announcement that the US Drug Enforcement Administration will move to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III.

The announcement from the Justice Department outlined the next steps in the rescheduling process: “The rescheduling of a controlled substance follows a formal rulemaking procedure that requires notice to the public, and an opportunity for comment, and an administrative hearing. This proposal starts the process, where the Drug Enforcement Administration will gather and consider information and views submitted by the public, in order to make a determination about the appropriate schedule. During that process, and until a final rule is published, marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance.” The public comment period is 60 days, though the entire process for reclassifying cannabis could take months.

The announcement also includes links to the Attorney General’s notice of the proposed rulemaking and the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) memo, “Questions Related to the Potential Rescheduling of Marijuana,” from the Attorney General in April 2024.

In response to the 2022 request from President Joe Biden to review the classification of cannabis, the Attorney General had conferred with the OLC on the rulemaking. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services, in their own response, had recommended the reclassification of cannabis to Schedule III status, which was celebrated by advocates as an official recognition of the medical value of cannabis.

The recent developments with cannabis rescheduling were a significant topic of discussion at the recent Cannabis Science Conference, which included the panel discussion, “Federal Rescheduling: Opinions and Impacts,” which was moderated by Kim Stuck, founder and CEO of Allay Consulting, and featured David Vaillencourt of S3 Collective; Ken Sobel, Esq.; and Susan Audino of S.A. Audino & Associates, LLC, who shared their perspectives on the potential effects on laboratories, regulations, and the public comment period.


Cannabis has been a Schedule I drug since 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was enacted. This recent consideration of its reclassification marks a historic shift over 50 years in the making.

Despite its federal classification, cannabis legalization and regulations--both for medical and recreational uses--continue on a state-level. Currently, more than half of states in the US permit cannabis for medical use and nearly half permit it for recreational use. Last month, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear signed House Bill 829, which revised the timeline by which applications can be made for a cannabis business license and also made changes to the state’s forthcoming medical cannabis program. On April 17, 2024, the Minnesota House voted 69-62 to allow pre-approvals for cannabis businesses licenses ahead of the planned opening of the market. Recreational cannabis was legalized in the state in August 2023, and the cannabis market is expected to fully open in early 2025. Also in April 2024, the Florida Supreme Court voted 5-2 to allow a cannabis initiative to appear on the ballot this November. If the initiative is approved by 60 percent of Florida voters, recreational cannabis would become legal in the state.


Justice Department Submits Proposed Regulation to Reschedule Marijuana. U.S. Department of Justice. (accessed May 16, 2024).