Despite Agreeing to Reschedule, DEA Remains Skeptical

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) made history in late April after agreeing to recommend rescheduling cannabis under Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Cannabis is currently on Schedule I. Despite their recommendation though, DEA top brass remain skeptical to a certain degree.

They aren’t so much skeptics of cannabis’ medicinal benefits, as evidenced by the language used in the report accompanying the rescheduling decision. But they are skeptical of state medical cannabis programs in terms of legitimacy and legality. As I see it, the DEA is right on this one.

State Actions Not Recognized by the DEA

Marijuana Moment published an article about the DEA decision, an article in which they questioned the federal agency’s skepticism of state-level medical cannabis programs. The article criticized the DEA report for using scare quotes around two key words: ‘legalized’ and ‘decriminalized’.

As a literary tool, scare quotes are utilized to emphasize a writer’s use of a word or phrase in a way that is ironic, referential, or otherwise non-standard. The DEA’s use of scare quotes in talking about state medical cannabis programs is not only wholly appropriate, but also warranted for the simple fact that the states have defied Washington by giving the green light to cannabis.

Even though the DEA has now admitted there may be medical benefits to glean from cannabis, that still does not make state-level activities legal. Such activities are not recognized by the DEA or federal law. That is just the legal reality.

Medical Cannabis Not Legal

As things currently stand, medical cannabis is not legal in any state. Cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance for the time being. That means it is illegal from coast-to-coast. States have been allowed to get away with launching medical cannabis programs because Congress has taken away the DEA’s authority to use federal funding to stop it. But the fact that enforcement has been defunded does not equal legalization.

Using scare quotes to describe state-level legalization and decriminalization is quite proper in the sense that it points out the dichotomy. States want to maintain that they have legalized medical cannabis when, in fact, they have not. They have only thumbed their nose at Washington with a full knowledge that regulators are not going to enforce federal laws.

A Moot Point Now

Despite the DEA’s skepticism of state-level cannabis regulations, it is all a moot point now. The only thing standing in the way of rescheduling is public opinion. The DEA must publish a proposed rule before allowing public comment for a period of time. Once that time has come to a close, they will publish a final rule.

It is highly unlikely that public opinion is going to encourage the DEA to reverse course. By and large, Americans are in favor of cannabis legalization. So in all likelihood, medical cannabis will be a Schedule III substance by the end of the year.

Little Will Change at the State Level

The official rescheduling of medical cannabis will change nothing at the state level. Organizations like will continue helping patients obtain medical cannabis cards in their respective states. Local pharmacies and dispensaries will continue to sell their products at retail. Medical providers will still be expected to diagnose patience and recommend medical cannabis to them.

Rescheduling is all but a foregone conclusion at this point. Even though the DEA remains skeptical of state-level actions to legalize cannabis, they look poised to do what the majority of Americans want them to do. That will not be the end of it. Expect advocates to continue pushing to have cannabis removed from the CSA altogether.

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