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Marijuana Reclassification Would Mark Major Policy Shift

Attorney General Merrick Garland recommended that marijuana be reclassified in a move that could shake up cannabis policy nationwide, Reuters reports. The proposal, which still must clear some hurdles to become an enacted rule, would remove marijuana from the classification it shares with heroin and other drugs with high potential for abuse. By making it a schedule three drug, with moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence, the federal government would take the first step toward narrowing the chasm between state and federal cannabis laws. The drug is legal in some form in nearly 40 states. While rescheduling the drug does not make it legal under federal law, it would open doors to more research and medical use, lighter criminal penalties and increased private investment in the cannabis sector.

The rule change has been in the works since 2022's pledge by President Joe Biden to review its classification. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group against the "commercialization and normalization" of marijuana, said it would mount a legal challenge if the proposal is finalized. It said investors in the marijuana industry would be the biggest beneficiaries of the change. “This industry, which has lobbied heavily to sell demonstrably harmful products, will now use this announcement to drive even more deliberate misinformation about these high-potency drugs to expand use and addiction," Kevin Sabet, the group's president, said in a statement.

While states have set a minimum age of 21 for legal recreational marijuana use, concerns are likely to be raised about whether the proposed change could affect youth. If marijuana's classification were to ease at the federal level, cannabis companies could reap significant benefits. Their shares could be eligible for listing on major stock exchanges, and the companies could receive more generous tax deductions. Moreover, they could face fewer restrictions from banks. With marijuana illegal federally, most U.S. banks do not lend to or serve cannabis companies, prompting many to rely on cash transactions. This has made some vulnerable to violent crime.


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