Congressional Report Confirms that Changing Marijuana to a Schedule III Drug Would Maintain Federal Criminalization and its Harms

Press Release Cat Packer January 17, 2024
Media Contact

Maggie Hart
[email protected]

Washington D.C. – A new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) confirms that marijuana would remain criminalized under federal law if moved to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as recently recommended by a Biden administrative agency. On the 2020 campaign trail, President Biden acknowledged that marijuana criminalization is a failure. He pledged to decriminalize marijuana and expunge related criminal records. As recently as September 2023, he acknowledged that “while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.” Now, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is considering a recommendation from the Health and Human Services Administration (HHS) to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive class, to a Schedule III drug, a less restrictive (but still criminalized) class.

As the federal scheduling process continues, experts and advocates are urging the Biden Administration  to follow through on Biden’s pledge to federally decriminalize marijuana—not reschedule — marijuana. Based on the confirmation from CRS that marijuana will remain federally criminalized under rescheduling, it is increasingly clear that descheduling marijuana is necessary to achieve marijuana laws grounded in public health, safety, and research.

“It’s significant to see the Biden Administration acknowledge what we have all known for years: that marijuana has a low likelihood for abuse and valid medical uses. But  rescheduling marijuana, without additional reforms, would leave most individuals and communities behind and subject to continued criminalization, harms, and disparities,” said Cat Packer, Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation.

“This Congressional report confirms what we have long suspected. Schedule III would maintain most harms associated with federal marijuana criminalization,” Packer continued. “As long as marijuana remains anywhere in the Controlled Substances Act, it will remain criminalized under federal law. President Biden’s Administration must make right on his campaign pledge to decriminalize marijuana and issue broad pardons to those who have been harmed by its history of racially-discriminatory enforcement.”

A majority of American voters support marijuana legalization and comprehensive reform, according to a Data for Progress poll. Health, civil rights, and policy leaders agree that federal descheduling paired with comprehensive Congressional legislative reform is the best path to repair the harms caused by criminalization and move toward federal marijuana regulation that benefits all communities. They are also urging President Biden to use the full extent of his executive authority to advance equitable federal marijuana reform.

While corporations who stand to profit from the tax relief that would come from rescheduling cannabis on the CSA are expected to support it as a landmark victory, advocates and community members insist much more is needed. Under Schedule III, an individual could still lose food benefits, housing access, or their job for marijuana-related charges. Individuals could still be sent to prison, have their children taken away, or be deported for marijuana-related charges. And workers in marijuana-related industries would still lack adequate protections under federal law under a Schedule III placement.

Now that the Department of Health and Human Service recommendation has been shared with the DEA, stakeholders await an official proposal from the DEA. Before a final decision, members of the public will be provided with a limited period of time to provide feedback. Experts and advocates are planning to utilize the public comment process to tell the Biden Administration that rescheduling marijuana isn’t enough.

Learn more about federal marijuana scheduling here.


About the Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization in the U.S. working to end the drug war, repair its harms, and build a non-punitive, equitable, and regulated drug market. We envision a world that embraces the full humanity of people, regardless of their relationship to drugs. We advocate that the regulation of drugs be grounded in evidence, health, equity, and human rights. In collaboration with other movements and at every policy level, we change laws, advance justice, and save lives. Learn more at

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.