US health department recommends looser restrictions on cannabis
The US Department of Health and Human Services has called on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to loosen federal rules on cannabis.
The drug is illegal at the federal level despite 40 of 50 US states having passed laws legalising its use in some form.
Cannabis is currently listed in the same class of drugs as heroin and LSD.
If the DEA changes its classification, it could mark the most significant shift in US drug policy in decades.
Cannabis is currently classified as a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no medical use and a high chance of abuse.
The change to schedule 3 would align it with drugs listed as having a low potential for dependency and abuse. Ketamine, anabolic steroids and drugs containing up to 90 milligrams of codeine per dose fall under that classification.
Last year, President Joe Biden asked his attorney general and health secretary to oversee a review on whether cannabis should be listed as a less serious drug.
The proposal was presented to the DEA by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Tuesday.
“As part of this process, HHS conducted a scientific and medical evaluation for consideration by DEA,” the agency said in a statement.
“DEA has the final authority to schedule or reschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act. DEA will now initiate its review.”
The HHS, in its statement, said “this administrative process was completed in less than 11 months, reflecting this department’s collaboration and leadership to ensure that a comprehensive scientific evaluation be completed and shared expeditiously”.
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The recommendation stops short of removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act’s list altogether. Some advocates have pushed the administration to de-schedule the drug, meaning repeal it from the Controlled Substances Act and regulate it in the same way as alcohol or tobacco.
Rescheduling it could open it up to further research and allow banking in the cannabis industry to operate more freely. Currently, most marijuana businesses in the US are forced to operate in cash, due to tax laws banning banks from handling money generated from certain drug sales.
Public opinion polling indicates that a majority of Americans support some form of legalisation of the drug.
Drugs is legal for adult recreational use in 23 states, including all west coast states and in Washington DC. It is permitted for medical use in 38 states.