New Schedule III Marijuana Rule Submitted

[ Posted Thursday, May 16th, 2024 – 16:07 UTC ]

Today saw a historic step taken on the road to finally ending the federal War On Weed. The Biden administration has now submitted a new federal rule on marijuana classification to the Federal Register, which will kick off a 60-day public commentary period. The new rule won't take effect for a while, in other words, but the clock has begun ticking at least.

You'll have to forgive me for writing about this again (after doing so only a few weeks ago), but I personally have been waiting for this day my whole life. Not so much: "waiting for the day a rule would be published in the Federal Register," but more like: "waiting for a United States president to speak out on the subject while admitting reality."

President Joe Biden did so today.

Before we get to that, though, here are the nuts-and-bolts of what this will all mean, from a New York Times article today:

The Biden administration moved on Thursday to downgrade marijuana from the most restrictive category of drugs.

The proposed rule, submitted to the Federal Register, is subject to a 60-day comment period, kicking off a lengthy approval process before it takes effect.

The proposal, which would move marijuana to Schedule III, from Schedule I, signals a significant shift in how the federal government views the substance, even as it does not legalize the drug. Its classification as one of the most dangerous and habit-forming substances has long drawn criticism, and recategorizing the drug is an acknowledgment by the federal government that the drug has some medicinal value and lower potential for abuse.

But back to President Biden himself. Here the transcript of a short video Biden released today on the issue (taken from their in-video text, complete with their pronunciation and enumeration quirks):

This is monumental. Today, my Administration took a major step to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 3 drug. It's an important move toward reversing longstanding inequities. Today's announcement builds on the work we've already done to pardon a record number of federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana. And it adds to the action we've taken to lift barriers to housing, employment, small business loans, and so much more for tens of thousands of Americans. Look folks, no one should be in jail merely for using or possessing marijuana. Period. Far too many lives have been upended because of failed approach[es] to marijuana. And I'm committed to righting those wrongs. You have my word on it.

This was bolstered by an even-shorter video from Vice President Kamala Harris:

So currently, marijuana is classified on the same level as heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl. We are finally changing that. I want to thank all of the advocates and everyone out there for helping to make this possible. And we are on the road to getting it done.

Putting marijuana on Schedule I was a monumental inequity. It was done by the administration of Richard Nixon, who wanted to jail as many hippies and college students as he could. This is historic fact -- here is former Nixon White House Counsel John Ehrlichman confessing this shameful history, years later:

You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left and Black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or Black people, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

The fact that this all began as a "Nixon-versus-hippies" fight certainly tells you how long this partisan political fight has been going on. Since then, marijuana has not budged from Schedule I, even as state after state legalized its use -- first for medicinal purposes (three-fourths of the states now allow this) and then for recreational adult use (roughly one-half of the states have taken this final step). Throughout all of that, the federal government's Draconian (and anti-hippie) stance did not change one iota. The threat of a crackdown enforcement effort has always hung over the entire marijuana industry -- which is also an injustice.

As White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed the move at the very start (up to about the two-minute mark) of her press conference today, and pointed out the racial component that has always existed within the War On Weed:

The reality is while White, Black and Brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and Brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionately higher rates. The president's actions today further his commitment to reverse longstanding injustices and to right historic wrongs.

She's right. Which only highlights (for me, at any rate) the shameful fact that the previous Democratic president, Barack Obama, didn't take this step during his eight-year term in office. Obama, unlike Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before him, not only admitted to getting as high as he could as a young man from smoking weed, he refused to apologize for doing so. And the movement towards legalizing at least medicinal marijuana really picked up steam during his term in office. So he would have had at least some political cover if he had done precisely the same thing Biden just did a full decade ago. But Obama -- perpetually leery of appearing "too Black" -- did not do so.

As I've said all along, this is really only the first necessary step, and it's not all that big of one when you think about it. Being on Schedule III still means (theoretically) that marijuana should not be available without a doctor's prescription. Which is, quite obviously, absurd. The majority of Americans now live in a state where any adult can walk into a store and buy whatever weed products they wish.

But it is progress, and (importantly), it is the first such progress on the federal level ever. It is the first time the federal government has formally signalled a retreat in the War On Weed. And that is what I have been waiting a long time for a president to announce.

I look forward to the day when the rule is finalized and actually implemented, too. Marijuana really belongs with alcohol and nicotine in the structure of the federal government, but for now Schedule III will be a whole lot better than Schedule I. Biden's step is tentative, to be sure, but it is the first step in the right direction ever, and as such it deserves celebrating.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


5 Comments on “New Schedule III Marijuana Rule Submitted”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    You'll have to forgive me for writing about this again (after doing so only a few weeks ago), but I personally have been waiting for this day my whole life.

    Forgive you!? It's good to see you sounding like the cat who ate the canary.


    Biden's step is tentative, to be sure, but it is the first step in the right direction ever, and as such it deserves celebrating.

    MIDOTW. :)

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Does this mean that Joe has another October surprise that’s even more effective than playing the wacky tabacky card?

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I think Joe is so astute at practicing politics that he kind of goes unnoticed and hence there’s just not much press. Like a ninja assassin.

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    ninja brandon?

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    here we are.

    thanks neil steinberg.

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