The federal government is expected formally to announce a decision in July about whether to remove marijuana from its Schedule I drug status, where it has been grouped together with heroin and LSD for more than 40 years.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced in April that it would rule on marijuana’s classification in the first half of 2016, according to McClatchy. But the agency has apparently missed its own self-imposed July 30 deadline.
Now, a DEA spokesman tells the Orange County Register that the agency anticipates “something happening in the next month,” though the Obama administration nor the agency itself has given any indication as to how they might rule on the drug’s status.
Marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, putting it in the same category as powerful narcotics like heroin, peyote and mescaline. Drugs classified as Schedule I have no accepted medical benefits.
However, with marijuana now legal for medical purposes in 25 states — and for recreation in another four states and the District of Columbia — many legalization advocates say it is well past time for the drug to be rescheduled, or, in what would be the best possible scenario for pot-related businesses, completely “descheduled” off of the list of controlled substances.
Reclassification of marijuana to Schedule II — alongside cocaine, which the government says has some accepted medical value — or to Schedule III — alongside prescription narcotics like Tylenol with codeine — would still make the drug illegal under federal law and would therefore leave business owners in medical- and recreationally-legal states operating in a legal gray area.
A complete “descheduling” of the drug, which would put it on par with tobacco and alcohol, is far less likely, experts predict.
Even if marijuana is reclassified to a different Schedule, little would change in how businesses can operate in states where it legal. If it were reclassified to Schedule III, however, businesses like marijuana dispensaries would be allowed to deduct operating expenses, including rent and utilities, from their federal tax bill, which would make it easier for such businesses to operate.
However, these businesses would still face challenges, including an inability to use the U.S. banking system and other regulatory restrictions.
“Technically, it gets you closer to the finish line, but you still have a whole hell of a long way to go,” National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) deputy director Paul Armentano told the Register.
California could soon become the fifth state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, after a measure qualified for the state’s November ballot earlier this month.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum