The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has committed to requesting a timeline from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the Biden administration’s ongoing federal marijuana scheduling review—a process that one congressman jokingly said that he hopes will result in the drug being moved from Schedule I to Schedule “420.”
At a House Judiciary Crime and Federal Government Surveillance Subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) pressed DEA Administrator Anne Milgram for her thinking on the review, as well as the challenges posed by the current patchwork of state cannabis laws under federal prohibition.
Milgram said that DEA has not yet received a scheduling recommendation from HHS, which is carrying out a scientific review into marijuana. When the agency does receive it, it will then carry out its own eight-factor analysis and open public comment before making the final call.
“We have constant conversations with HHS and with FDA, but we have not been given a specific timeline,” she said.
Gaetz asked if the DEA administrator would request that timeline from HHS, and she said, “I will ask.”
The congressman then asked if DEA had any reason to oppose the removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and Milgram said that she “couldn’t prejudge it at this point in time” without the recommendation from HHS, as well as her own agency’s analysis.
“As the head of the DEA, I will ultimately be responsible for signing off on what the scheduling is,” she said.
Gaetz also brought up research linking the legalization and regulation of cannabis at the state level to lower rates of opioid prescriptions and asked if Milgram would take that into account as DEA makes a final scheduling determination.
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) July 27, 2023
“You have my full commitment, congressman, that I will keep an open mind. I will look at all the research,” she said. “I expect that we will get additional public comment or research that comes in, and I will look at all of it.”
The congressman also brought up the existing patchwork of state cannabis laws and asked if that makes DEA’s job more challenging. The administrator said that “we deal with it, congressman, all the time,” pointing out that the agency is actively dealing with states scheduling another drug, xylazine, that’s being found in the fentanyl supply that is not currently scheduled at the federal level, for example.
Gaetz concluded by noting that taking marijuana out of Schedule I would remove barriers to research. And at that point, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) chimed in to support his colleague’s remarks and add that throughout his 17 years in Congress, he’s consistently heard “governmental gibberish about marijuana” from top federal officials.
“The government has messed this up forever—and you need to get ahead of the railroad,” Cohen told Milgram. “You’re gonna get something from HHS. Biden understands that should be reclassified. He said from [Schedule] I to III—it ought to be classified from I to 420, and we ought to just clean it up and get over with it.”
While Milgram said that HHS hasn’t provided a specific timeline for its review, Secretary Xavier Becerra did tell Marijuana Moment last month that it’s his hope that the agencies of jurisdiction will be able to complete their work by the year’s end, but it remains to be seen if that will happen.
Meanwhile, Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer led a letter to Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland in March, alongside 15 other bipartisan members of Congress, demanding transparency in the cannabis scheduling review.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.