For over half a year, the cannabis industry has been waiting on pins and needles, since news broke in August that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had formally recommended moving marijuana to Schedule III from Schedule I, the most significant possible cannabis reform since marijuana was banned in 1970.
But since August, there’s been precious little communication from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on how quickly the agency intends to move, when it may make an announcement, or how stakeholders could engage further. The DEA even rebuffed members of Congress last month after some had written the agency to lobby for full legalization instead of reclassifying cannabis to Schedule III.
Which has left many wondering what exactly to expect, and when there may be solid news from the DEA.
The wait is nearly over, according to one industry insider who’s been lobbying the Biden administration for months on the issue.
“If it were to happen tomorrow or sometime in March, I would not be surprised,” said Adam Goers, co-chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform. “If the DEA were to come back with anything other than what the FDA’s recommendation would be, I think there would be a certain instruction to go back and get working on it again. That’s definitely been the attitude we’ve heard out of the administration.”
Other sources – who spoke on background or requested anonymity, given the sensitivity of the process – echoed that sentiment, with one telling Green Market Report that a DEA announcement is “imminent.” A third said conversations with multiple U.S. senators indicated that lawmakers considered the Schedule III move a “done deal,” and that they were making plans accordingly. Yet a fourth said some chatter was the Biden administration wanted a DEA announcement during February because it’s Black History Month.
The point is, no one knows for sure.
“DEA is a law enforcement agency… They don’t leak a lot of information,” Goers said pointedly.
But the tea leaves are indicating Schedule III, and in the very near future, Goers added.
“We have certainly been told that the process is moving quickly towards completion, but we also don’t have specific intelligence that it’s going to come out on a certain day,” said Goers, who is also senior vice president of corporate affairs at The Cannabist Company Holdings (NEO: CBST) (OTCQX: CCHWF).
That also doesn’t mean rescheduling will be finished overnight; precisely how long the process will take is one of the major question marks looking forward.
The first step is for the DEA to publish a proposed new rescheduling rule, which kicks off a 60-day public comment period, which in turn opens the possibility for litigation from cannabis opponents who want to maintain prohibition, Goers acknowledged. The optimal scenario is rescheduling could be done within 90 days of a DEA announcement, but that’s far from certain.
That timing uncertainty is also partly why – according to various sources – the Biden administration is likely pressuring the DEA to make an announcement sooner rather than later. That way, it will both heighten the chances of finishing rescheduling before the November election – making it harder for a possible Republican successor to undo, should Biden lose – and also so Biden can campaign on cannabis reform during his expected rematch against former President Donald Trump.
“The (Biden reelection) campaign is looking at these issues as well, from their informal polling side, and testing how they’re going to speak about this,” Goers said.
“The campaign isn’t the one that makes decisions … that’s the FDA and DEA, but the fact that the campaign has already been highlighting this for many months, the president’s work on this, and testing the messaging on this, that’s a very good sign that the administration thinks showing reform on cannabis is an important piece for the president to win reelection,” he said.
Goers also said some of the speculation he’s heard is the administration would like to also be able to have Biden highlight the rescheduling news in his state of the union speech, which is scheduled for March 7.
But the bottom line, Goers said, is the wheels are in motion.
“I don’t think there’s anything that concerns us outside of getting it done, quite literally,” Goers said. “All the tools are there. The will is there… It’s my job to be worried about the little things. But we’re confident this is going to move forward.”