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GOP Senator Is Wrong About International Treaties Preventing Marijuana Rescheduling, Cannabis Companies And Advocacy Organizations Say

Dozens of marijuana companies and advocacy groups are pushing back against Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) recent claims that the U.S. would be in violation of international drug treaty agreements if it reschedules cannabis to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

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In a letter sent to Romney this month, more than 50 organizations said the senator made “inaccurate claims that neither reflect the current state of medical and scientific knowledge about marijuana nor an accurate application of relevant treaties to proposed reforms.”

Signatories—including major marijuana businesses, industry groups, law firms, ancillary businesses and and cannabis advocacy organizations—said in the April 9 letter that they wanted to “correct the record.”


Late last month, Romney and Sens. James Risch (R-ID) and Pete Ricketts (R-NE) sent a letter to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram arguing that rescheduling marijuana—as recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—would put the U.S. out of compliance with international treaty obligations and make it harder to ensure that other countries continue to enforce drug laws, “including for deadly narcotics like fentanyl.”

The new industry and advocacy group response contends that Romney’s understanding of the law is out of date.

“Your letter cites a 1977 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit describing obligations under the Single Convention that would not be met if marijuana were reclassified under schedule III,” it says. “However, in the many years since the court weighed in, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to reclassify cannabis in recognition of its medical uses. Moving marijuana to schedule III, as recommended by HHS, simply acknowledges this accepted reality.”

“The U.S. is not required under any applicable Treaty to keep marijuana in schedule I or II under the CSA. So long as certain requirements are met, the drug Treaties provide the U.S. with the flexibility to classify relevant substances based on scientific and medical evidence and in accordance with domestic laws such as the CSA. The U.S. Department of State addressed this in the fall of 2023 during an intersessional meeting of the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs, stating that the Single Convention is primarily focused on drug trafficking and has an international, rather than domestic, focus.”

Ever since news leaked in August that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had sent a recommendation to DEA that marijuana be rescheduled as a Schedule III drug, some have warned that the move could still hit legal snags. One of the open questions is whether U.S. interpretations of international drug law would block the proposal.

Officials and advocates have interpreted the country’s duties under those treaties in competing ways.

Among those who’ve raised concerns is Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who raised the issue in a letter to DEA Administrator Milgram in January, claiming that any reclassification that puts marijuana outside of Schedule I or Schedule II “would constitute a violation of the Single Convention,” referring to the 1961 United Nations (UN) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

In 2016, DEA itself said in a denial of a cannabis rescheduling petition that “in view of United States obligations under international drug control treaties, marijuana cannot be placed in a schedule less restrictive than schedule II.”

But as a coalition of 12 senators pointed out in a separate letter to Milgram a week before Harris’s was sent, the UN has since revised global cannabis scheduling policies and allowed other member states, such as Canada, to legalize and regulate marijuana without penalty.

Those lawmakers urged DEA to legalize marijuana completely.

Earlier this month, meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government’s concern about possible United Nations (UN) penalties for legalizing marijuana never materialized, disclosing that no officials have so much as discussed the issue with Canada since the reform was enacted in 2018.

The prime minister was a chief proponent of legalization, and the government has defended its decision to advance the reform—including at a meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2020.

In February, a group of lawyers specializing in cannabis issued argued in a legal opinion that international drug treaties ought not stand in the way of moving marijuana to Schedule III. In fact, it said, a move to Schedule III would better uphold the country’s broader obligations under international law to regulate cannabis in a way that protects public health and safety.

The new letter to Romney echoes many of that opinion’s arguments.

“The current placement of marijuana under schedule I prevents the U.S. from ensuring the substance’s availability for medical and scientific research as required by the Single Convention,” it says. “Reclassification under schedule III would, therefore, bring the U.S. closer to compliance with Treaty requirements.”

Meanwhile, HHS has reportedly requested a legal opinion on the implications of possible marijuana rescheduling from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and some suspect it concerns the potential international treaty consequences. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has requested clarification on the request from HHS.

A Democratic congresswoman has separately implored DEA to “reject any argument” that rescheduling marijuana under federal law would constitute a violation of international treaty obligations. She also asked the agency to reveal a list of any “outside partners” it has met with to discuss the global implications of a potential cannabis reclassification.

The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) did recently reiterate that it considers legalizing marijuana for non-medical or non-scientific purposes a violation of international treaties.

Here’s a full list of the groups that signed the recent letter to Romney, as well as a copy of the letter itself:

  • Acreage Holdings

  • Ascend Wellness Holdings

  • Asian Americans for Cannabis Education

  • American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp AYR Wellness

  • Bada Bloom

  • Balanced Veterans Network

  • Cannabist Company

  • ConBud

  • Cresco Labs

  • Dutchie

  • Good Day Farm

  • Green Thumb Industries

  • Hemp for Victory

  • Hero Grown

  • Holistic Solutions

  • Holistic Industries

  • Housing Works

  • IAVA

  • Jushi Holdings

  • Justus Foundation

  • Kush Culture Industries

  • Law Enforcement Action Partnership

  • Lume Cannabis Co.

  • Major Bloom

  • Majority Minority Group Marcu Enterprises Marijuana Policy Project MoodiDay

  • National Cannabis Roundtable

  • National Hispanic Cannabis Council (NHCC) Native Roots Dispensary

  • New York CAURD Coalition

  • New York for Social and Economic Equity Perkins Coie LLP

  • PharmaCann Inc.

  • Phylos Bio

  • Physicians Research Center, LLC

  • Porter Wright

  • PPP Dispensary

  • Quality Roots

  • Queen City Remedies

  • Realm of Caring

  • Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance

  • Scotts Miracle-Gro

  • Simply Pure Trenton

  • Tetragram Inc.

  • The Bronx Community Foundation

  • The Travel Agency: A Cannabis Store

  • The Weldon Project

  • Trulieve

  • Tuatara Capital

  • United States Cannabis Council

  • Valley Wellness

  • Verano Holdings

  • Vicente LLP

  • Wana Brands

  • Wyld

  • Veterans Cannabis Project



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