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More than a dozen bipartisan congressional lawmakers sent a letter to top Biden administration officials on Thursday, demanding transparency in the ongoing marijuana scheduling review that the president directed last year.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) recently circulated a draft of the letter among colleagues, seeking signatories before sending the final version to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The letter states that Biden’s scheduling directive represents “an opportunity to make honest assessment of the origins and implications of federal policy,” adding that “marijuana was scheduled based on stigma not science,” and it’s “time to address marijuana’s existing reality as a state-regulated substance.”
“The administrative review of marijuana’s scheduling should place the burden of evidence on maintaining marijuana’s status as a scheduled substance. To correct the failed war on drugs and cannabis prohibition, the assumption must be that, unless evidence undeniably indicates that marijuana is more prone to drug abuse than unscheduled substances already regulated at the state level, marijuana should be fully descheduled from the Controlled Substances Act.”
The lawmakers added that administrative descheduling would “not negate Congress’ obligation to act on comprehensive federal cannabis reform,” and that there are a variety of thoughtful legislative reform proposals that have been introduced in past sessions.
“Each of these proposals works to respect the leadership states have demonstrated for 50 years in rethinking the failed and discriminatory war on drugs approach to marijuana,” the letter says. “Given the scope of the federal government’s failure on marijuana, the Administration must also take meaningful action to deschedule marijuana and partner with Congress and the states in the work ahead.”
“To ensure accountability in your conclusions—which has been absent in so much of the history of federal marijuana regulation—transparency is key. We urge you to make available for public review and comment any evidence cited to demonstrate marijuana is more prone to drug abuse than descheduled substances already regulated at the state level. With the severe federal restrictions on cannabis research due to marijuana’s scheduling, it’s important that your departments review the full scope of research available. It is time to set the federal government on a better path for marijuana policy and engage transparently with the evidence.”
The letter, which also includes Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf as a CC, has 16 signatories.
Beside Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Blumenauer, they are: Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Nikema Williams (D-GA), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA), Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Val Hoyle (D-OR).
Meanwhile, the HHS secretary recently sent lawmakers, including Blumenauer and Lee, a response to a separate December letter to the president concerning the need for the administration to recognize the merits of cannabis descheduling and take a clear position.
Rather than address the main request from the lawmakers, however, the top federal health official simply reiterated the department’s role in carrying out cannabis scheduling review—and ultimately said that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) makes the final call after they complete a “binding” scientific analysis.
Separately, the attorney general said at a Senate hearing last week that DOJ is “still working on a marijuana policy” while awaiting the results of the scientific review from health agencies.
President Joe Biden, for his part, has routinely touted his cannabis pardons and scheduling directive in the months since October, including most recently at an event commemorating the end of Black History Month.