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Will Marijuana Be Rescheduled?

The letters "DEA" typed out on typewriter

As of Q4 2023, 24 U.S. states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Thirty-eight states have legalized the medical use of the substance.

More and more states are following suit as recreational marijuana use acceptance moves into the majority.

However, marijuana use and possession is still considered a federal crime, contradicting (in a sense) many state laws and legislative efforts.

Can’t the federal government just flip the switch on how marijuana is considered? Well, it’s not exactly that simple. All federally controlled substances are recognized by a formal scheduling system. Scheduling is established according to a set of criteria, and the legalities surrounding the use and possession of a controlled substance are determined by how it is scheduled.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I (the most restrictive) substance by the federal government (namely the DOJ and DEA), and this would need to change before it could be federally legalized to any degree. 

Recently, there have been serious talks regarding marijuana rescheduling. Here are some things you need to know about this.

An Overview of Federal Substance Scheduling

The U.S. federal drug scheduling system is used to determine controlled substances. Schedules are based on a substance’s accepted medical use as well as its abuse or dependence potential. The following scheduling information is cited from the DEA website.

Schedule I

Schedule I substances are defined as substances with no currently accepted medical use and also have a high abuse potential. Examples of schedule I substances include:

  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Ecstasy
  • Marijuana (current)

Schedule II

Schedule II substances are those that have at least some accepted medical use (or their primary constituents) but have a high potential for abuse and can lead to severe dependence. Examples include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Oxycodone
  • Adderall

Schedule III

Schedule III substances are defined as drugs with accepted medical applications with a moderate (to low) potential for abuse or dependence. Examples include:

  • Codeine (in certain concentrations)
  • Ketamine
  • Anabolic Steroids
  • Testosterone

Schedule IV

Schedule IV substances are defined as drugs with accepted medical applications and a low potential for abuse or dependence. Examples include:

  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Ambien
  • Soma
  • Tramadol

Schedule V

Schedule V substances are defined as having a lower abuse potential than schedule IV substances and include:

  • Lomotil
  • Motofen
  • Lyrica
  • Parepectolin 

The Marijuana Rescheduling Petition

Marijuana is currently a Schedule I substance, meaning that it is classified among the most controlled substances in the country. These substances have no accepted medical use and are considered highly dangerous with high abuse potential.

In recent years, we have seen the growing medical acceptance of cannabis in many states, as well as research on the potential health benefits of THC/CBD and a lower abuse risk than traditionally thought.

In light of this, along with the widespread decriminalization and state legalization of the substance, many are formally calling for a rescheduling of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III.

There is a formal petition with growing support known simply as the Marijuana Rescheduling Petition. This petition has garnered signatures from politicians and individuals with market influence. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended that the DOJ and the DEA reschedule marijuana. This petition is still under review, and federal officials and agencies are still debating the topic.

Oval Office Influence

Among the most vocal on the issue, Kamala Harris said on March 15, 2024, “I cannot emphasize enough that they (the DEA) need to get to it as quickly as possible. And we need to have a resolution based on their findings and their assessment.”

The white house is continuing to receive requests for the rescheduling of marijuana and urges to move quickly on the matter. With pressure coming from many angles, a resolution may come about sooner rather than later.

What Would This Mean for Employers?

If marijuana is rescheduled, it will undoubtedly influence employer’s workplace drug policies and procedures. It may also affect how past marijuana crimes are considered and what employment actions can be taken on the basis of a marijuana-related arrest or conviction, no matter the severity. There is even potential for a change in how employers can regulate on-the-job marijuana use under certain circumstances.

In short, the rescheduling of marijuana would have many implications for employers and could potentially introduce a number of new regulations and legalities. For employers, this is undoubtedly an important development to follow.


The first step toward the federal legalization of marijuana would be a reconsideration of how it is currently scheduled. As it appears, talks of rescheduling the substance are growing more serious. With increasing support, considerable changes may occur in the coming years. Of course, this will affect employers across the country. Processes and procedures that were commonplace and routine just a few years ago could quickly become illegal and discriminatory. Employers need to be aware of changing legislation (state and federal) regarding marijuana and its use.

While there is no reliable forecast for what’s to come, changing state laws and growing support for federal change suggest that there may be some rapid developments on the issue.

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