Congressman Demands Answers From Biden Admin On Marijuana Rescheduling Legal Opinion Request For DOJ

Congressman Demands Answers From Biden Admin On Marijuana Rescheduling Legal Opinion Request For DOJ


A congressman is seeking answers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over the agency’s reported request for a legal opinion on the implications of possible marijuana rescheduling from the Justice Department.

As part of a House Ways & Means Committee hearing with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) submitted a written question for the record (QFR) requesting that the top health agency clarify what kind of input it sought from DOJ in recent weeks, as The Wall Street Journal reported this month.

The Biden-initiated scheduling review “is a necessary step in the work to end the federal government’s failed and discriminatory prohibition of cannabis,” Blumenauer’s QFR, which was shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment, says.

“Marijuana was scheduled based on stigma, not science. It is time to remedy this injustice,” it says.

Blumenauer—who separately delivered passionate remarks during the in-person committee hearing, calling the administration’s lack of progress on marijuana reform “political malpractice”—laid out three questions for HHS, inquiring about the basis of the request, the agency’s “legal authority” in the scheduling process and more:

How does this outreach conform or differ from standard practice in scheduling reviews under the Controlled Substances Act?
What concerns prompted HHS’ communication with the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the scheduling of marijuana?
What legal authority can HHS leverage to uphold its recommendation to reschedule marijuana to Schedule III in the event that DEA proposes scheduling marijuana higher than Schedule III?

The article where the HHS request for a DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) legal opinion was first reported principally concerned alleged tension between the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and White House over the administration’s push for marijuana rescheduling.

Marijuana Moment has reached out to HHS and DOJ for clarification on the substance of the OLC memo. An HHS representative declined to comment on the record. The Justice Department did not respond to the request.

While the Wall Street Journal report doesn’t specify what legal consideration HHS has asked DOJ’s OLC to weigh in on, it’s possible that it’s related to international policy implications of rescheduling amid conflicting opinions.

Opponents of marijuana reform have urged DEA to keep cannabis in Schedule I, in part because they say a reclassification would constitute a violation of international treaties to which the U.S. is party. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) also raised the issue during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

A Democratic congresswoman recently implored DEA to  “reject any argument” to that end, as did a coalition of 12 senators who pointed out in a separate letter to that the United Nations (UN) has 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.

Legal experts have also disputed the opponents’ argument, asserting that 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.

Separately, the UN’s drug control body recently reiterated that it does consider legalizing marijuana for non-medical or non-scientific purposes a violation of international treaties.

For his part, Blumenauer also recently sent a letter to Becerra and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram expressing frustration over the inadequate implementation of a cannabis research bill he championed that President Joe Biden signed into law in late 2022.

He and Harris, otherwise strange bedfellows who sponsored the legislation together, said in their letter that they are “deeply troubled” with the “unacceptable” lack of progress in following through on the policy change to streamline marijuana research.

Read Blumenauer’s QFR to HHS on the marijuana scheduling review below: 

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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