The American Nurses Association is applauding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s (HHS) recommendation to move marijuana to Schedule III, calling the action “a positive step toward developing an evidence-based approach for marijuana and related-cannabinoids use in disease and symptom management.”
“The American Nurses Association (ANA) recognizes this as an accomplishment in realizing the potential for marijuana in health care delivery,” the group said in a press release on Thursday. “This marks the first time HHS has publicly acknowledged marijuana’s medical use.”
The professional association, which says it represents more than 5 million registered nurses across the country, has pushed for reclassifying marijuana since at least 2021 and has supported “providing safe access to therapeutic marijuana and related cannabinoids” for more than 20 years. In September of last year, it officially recognized cannabis as a formal specialty nursing practice area.
“ANA continues to reiterate its’ [sic] position urging policymakers to review and reclassify marijuana’s status to support clinical research on how marijuana could benefit patients and providers,” the new release says, noting that it also “supports the urgency of clinical research to inform patients and providers on the efficacy of marijuana and related cannabinoids.”
ANA bills itself as “the sole reviewing body of specialty nursing scope of practice and standards of practice.”
In recognizing cannabis as a practice area last year, the group’s president said the move was to highlight “the essential role and special contribution of cannabis nurses to the health care system and promotes enhanced integration of cannabis therapies for health care consumers across diverse health care settings.”
The organization also gave a nod to a separate group, the American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA), which advocates for research, education and policy reform around medical marijuana. ANA credited that group for “pioneering the cannabis nursing field” and “contributing to the broader landscape of nursing practice and patient care.”
Rachel Parmelee, the president of ACNA, said last year the group was “deeply gratified by the groundbreaking establishment of cannabis nursing as an ANA-recognized nursing specialty.”
Currently, the HHS rescheduling recommendation is under review by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has the final say on the matter.
Earlier this week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) laid out the limitations of the proposed policy change, emphasizing that state cannabis markets would continue to run afoul of federal law, while existing criminal penalties at the federal level for certain marijuana-related activity would remain in force.
In September, CRS released a related analysis that focused on how rescheduling would have “broad implications for federal policy” in areas such as taxes, housing, immigration, military eligibility, gun rights and more. Researchers also assessed that it is “likely” DEA will abide by the HHS recommendation, based on past precedent.
HHS finally released the full recommendation and scientific findings it shared with DEA last week, and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said his agency has “communicated” their “position” on marijuana rescheduling to DEA and has continued to offer additional information to assist with the final determination.
DEA has steadfastly maintained it has “final authority” over the matter and can make any scheduling determination that it sees fit.
The statement came in response to an earlier letter from 31 bipartisan lawmakers, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), that urged the agency to consider the “merits” of legalization as it carried out its review.
DEA has faced pressure on both sides of the marijuana policy debate over recent months, with advocates pressing for a Schedule III decision, or complete descheduling, and prohibitionists urging the agency to keep cannabis in Schedule I.
Prior to the HHS documents’ release, a coalition of 12 Democratic state attorneys general implored DEA to move forward with federal marijuana rescheduling, calling the policy change a “public safety imperative.”
In another letter last month, 29 former U.S. attorneys called on the Biden administration to leave cannabis in Schedule I.
Last month, the governors of six U.S. states—Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Louisiana—sent a letter to Biden calling on the administration to reschedule marijuana by the end of last year.
Meanwhile, six former DEA heads and five former White House drug czars sent a letter to the attorney general and current DEA administrator voicing opposition to the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana. They also made a questionable claim about the relationship between drug schedules and criminal penalties in a way that could exaggerate the potential impact of the incremental reform.
Signatories include DEA and Office of National Drug Control Policy heads under multiple administrations led by presidents of both major parties.
In October, Advocates and lawmakers who support cannabis reform marked the one-year anniversary of Biden’s mass marijuana pardon and scheduling directive this month by calling on him to do more—including by expanding the scope of relief that his pardon had and by expressly supporting federal legalization.
Two GOP senators, including the lead Republican sponsor of a marijuana banking bill that cleared a key committee in September, also filed legislation late last year to prevent federal agencies from rescheduling cannabis without tacit approval from Congress.
A coalition of 14 Republican congressional lawmakers, meanwhile, has urged DEA to “reject” the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana and instead keep it in the most restrictive category under the CSA.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
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