What Does DEA Cannabis Rescheduling Mean?

With mounting pressure for DEA cannabis rescheduling, and drug enforcement in general, there’s often talk of marijuana being “rescheduled,” or dropped to one of the less strict categories under the Controlled Substances Act.

The cannabis plant is something of a federal outlaw. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act passed, bringing with it a tiered “schedule” which classified known illicit substances into five categories based on both medicinal potential and abuse potential. Harmful drugs continue to be added to this schedule to this day, as they are discovered.

Given what was known at the time scientifically, as well as the rampant stigma against cannabis users, marijuana was placed in the most threatening category: Schedule I, a more strict classification than those given to cocaine and heroin.

According to the CSA,”Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This goes directly against what our community has uncovered regarding the medicinal benefits of the plant, just like it goes against the federal government’s patent on cannabinoids as novel antioxidants and neuroprotectants.

Here’s what would occur if cannabis were bumped down to a more reasonable schedule, or, taken off of the schedule entirely.

Schedule II

Schedule II drugs, like cocaine, methamphetamine, Adderall-family stimulants, and opioids, are defined as “dangerous drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” A classification of this type would likely not do much for expanding cannabis access – in fact, cannabis would officially be treated as a drug by the FDA, and new synthesized cannabis medications would take several years and millions of dollars to develop.

Schedule III

Drugs on Schedule III have “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Some familiar names in this category are ketamine, codeine, testosterone and anabolic steroids. This schedule would likely not be a good place for cannabis either. What it seems is that researchers will have to try very hard in order to prove that cannabis has potential for abuse, as these other drugs do.


As we continue to learn new things about the nature of cannabis, it’s becoming more and more clear that it acts like a botanical herb, and not like a narcotic drug. For this reason, a large number of medical cannabis proponents believe that marijuana should be fully removed from the Controlled Substances Act. DEA cannabis rescheduling would allow it to be regulated more like a food product or botanical – though there would likely still be compliance and packaging rules, and age requirements to purchase, similarly to alcohol.

While the DEA gave hints over the summer that they may consider rescheduling cannabis sometime during 2016, the agency held its ground and has made little headway on DEA cannabis rescheduling since then. We at Jardín hope that whatever happens, the patients still come first and that as many people as possible have the right to access the medicine of their choice.

About the Author John Kent

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