Biden hails ‘monumental’ steps toward easing marijuana rules as rescheduling process moves ahead

President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday took another step toward reclassifying marijuana as a lower-risk substance, opening for public comment its proposed loosening of federal rules in a step the president deemed “monumental.”

“Today my administration took a major step to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug,” Biden said in a video posted to social media. “It’s an important move towards reversing longstanding inequities.”

It was Biden’s first time speaking out about the proposed rescheduling since his Justice Department recommended in April that marijuana be rescheduled as a Schedule III controlled substance, a classification shared by prescription drugs such as ketamine and Tylenol with codeine.

The proposed changes would amount to significant changes to federal marijuana law, and could provide a political boost to the president at a moment he is working to bolster his appeal among young voters.

Biden has already pardoned federal marijuana offenders and urged individual state governors to take similar steps.

On Thursday, the Justice Department is taking the next formal step in the process of easing federal restrictions on cannabis, according to a senior administration official. The rescheduling proposal will appear publicly in the Federal Register, opening it up for a 60-day public comment period.

After, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration can assign an administrative law judge to consider evidence in the proposal and make a final scheduling recommendation. The final step comes when the Justice Department makes a final scheduling determination.

“Today’s announcement builds on the work we’ve already done to pardon a record number of federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana. It adds to the action we’ve taken to lift barriers to housing, employment, small business loans, and so more for tens of thousands of Americans,” Biden said in the video. “Look folks: No one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana. Period.”

“Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana and I’m committed to righting those wrongs. You have my word on it,” he went on.

While the process for rescheduling marijuana is lengthy, the president’s aides believe the step is a necessary one to place the drug in a more appropriate category. For more than 50 years, marijuana has been categorized as a Schedule I substance – drugs like heroin, bath salts and ecstasy that are considered to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse — and subject to the strictest of restrictions.

Biden’s advisers also privately acknowledge the potential political benefit of loosening rules on marijuana, which has gained wider cultural acceptance over the last decade. Many states now allow its use, both for medical purposes and for recreation.

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