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Advocates Urge Descheduling, Not Marijuana Rescheduling in Federal Comments

Since the federal government launched the comment period on rescheduling marijuana, advocates are demanding descheduling to ensure true legalization.

The opening comment period follows President Joe Biden’s endorsement of moving marijuana to be a Schedule III drug. It is currently a Schedule I drug, while cocaine is Schedule II.

Descheduling Cannabis Coalition Launched

The United for Marijuana Decriminalization (UMD) coalition launched a digital comment tool for activists to demand that marijuana be descheduled from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and not rescheduled.

People can use the UMD’s public comment tool until the public comment period closes on July 22, 2024.

The tool’s pre-drafted comment, which members of the public can customize, emphasizes that rescheduling will not end unjust criminal legal consequences for marijuana-related activities.

Like many prominent New Jersey cannabis advocates, they favor descheduling.

They are concerned that rescheduling is simply a rebranding of marijuana prohibition, not the end of it.

Members of UMD include the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), which includes New Jersey Advocates, Better Organizing to Win Legalization (BOWL), the Drug Policy Alliance, the Parabola Center for Law and Policy, the National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers, and Marijuana Justice.

“We can and need to do better than rescheduling. Schedule III will perpetuate our failed approach on marijuana, not end it. Descheduling is the only answer that is in alignment with science, morality, and the will of the American people,” said  Better Opportunity To Win Legalization (BOWL) advocacy leader and former MCBA President Kaliko Castille said.

He was succeeded as MCBA President by New Jersey cannabis advocate and businessman Tahir Johnson.

“The administration is determined for it to go quickly,” Castille observed.

He said there could be an end to the process and announcement before the Democratic National Convention this summer.

But Castille warned the comment period and regulations process could drag from three months to more than two years. He said there likely will be court cases that the anti-cannabis opposition will pursue, which could delay the process.

A similar group launched a petition demanding descheduling.

Advocate For Descheduling During Federal Public Comment Period

UMD noted that Biden has repeatedly said no one should be arrested for smoking marijuana. But, under Schedule III, marijuana would remain federally illegal.

The coalition is working to ensure that individuals and communities hurt most by the War on Drugs use the comment process to demand an end to federal marijuana prohibition.

Pushing for Federal Cannabis Legalization

“Demonstrate to federal leaders that the public supports and needs reforms beyond rescheduling, including legalization,” said Cat Packer, Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation for the Drug Policy Alliance.

She said small businesses should make their voice heard.

“To stop at simply providing financial relief to a very few while continuing to marginalize communities that have long suffered under the disproportionate weight of discriminatory cannabis policies would indeed be an abhorrent miscarriage,” National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers Founder Natacha Andrews said.

“Creating a record of voices resisting rescheduling is critical … to stop the arrests, incarceration, and lifelong punishment that comes with being caught with the wrong plant in the wrong state,” Marijuana Justice Executive Director Chelsea Higgs Wise said.

“We’re calling on all individuals and communities adversely and disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization and those that support federal marijuana decriminalization,” she added.

Rescheduling Problems

The UMD argued Schedule III won’t restore the rights of individuals targeted by marijuana criminalization.

Nor will rescheduling ensure a diverse marketplace by protecting small businesses and equity programs. It won’t stop large corporate Multi-State Operators (MSOs) from forming a national or global cartel or control by a few, known as an oligopoly.

Arguably in New Jersey there is a cartel or oligopoly of a few large MSOs keeping the price of their mediocre cannabis flower high to ensure their profits.

A monopoly would be if only one corporation dominates the entire market.

Federal Cannabis Legalization Issues

“(U.S. Attorney General Merrick) Garland needs to put together a new memo,” Castille argued regarding federal cannabis legalization.

He was not optimistic about Congress passing federal cannabis legalization quickly.

The Cole Memo created by Justice Department official James Cole under former President Barack Obama said they would respect the state legal markets.

“It’s pretty obvious to people this is a political move,” Castille observed. “The right thing to do is to make sure this is descheduling.”

Regulating Cannabis Like a Plant, Medicine, or Alcohol

Castille said Congress needs to create carve-outs under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure cannabis is not treated like a pharmaceutical.

The FDA requires vigorous testing and standardization of medicinal drugs.

“It’s just not possible under a plant. It affects people differently,” he argued. “It does not fit neatly in the way we typically view drugs.”

Castille wants cannabis treated like the “whole plant medicine” that it is.

He predicted the Department of Agriculture would regulate part of it while the FDA could regulate the medicinal part on the federal level.

Castille had few predictions about the future of the national adult-use cannabis market.

Some states treat it like alcohol. For example, Oregon has a commission that regulates both alcohol and cannabis.

Castille said marijuana as a Schedule III drug could set up a national cannabis industry like the pharmaceutical industry dominated by a few large shady corporations.

“It still makes every state program illegal,” he argued.

Castille noted we are in a unique period where a series of where the federal government is tolerating the state-legal cannabis industry.

“280-E (tax savings) is the only thing that benefits the industry,” he said. “There’s no guarantee there’s a step after that.”

Castille believed that large MSOs would benefit the most from tax savings. They would likely use the money to create regional monopolies in his opinion.

“Limited license market is their business model. Otherwise, they flee,” he said.

Small, local, minority, and women-owned cannabis companies would also benefit from the tax savings of Schedule III.

Many are waiting for federal cannabis legalization to cash in.

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