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How Would Federal Rescheduling Impact State Cannabis Laws?

It has been little over a year (at the time of this writing) since President Joe Biden recommended that the DEA reschedule marijuana as a Schedule III controlled substance; it is currently on Schedule I. Politicians and pundits have been weighing in ever since on how a rescheduling move could impact state cannabis laws. Does anyone know for sure?

Marijuana Moment has a great piece on this topic that is worth reading if you follow cannabis laws. The article discusses several different scenarios including how rescheduling might impact states with existing medical and recreational programs. Much of the impact would probably be tempered by how those states modify their existing laws to accommodate the federal action.

4 Types of States

In order to clearly explain what might happen, Marijuana Moment’s Ben Adlin divided the states into four categories. The first and easiest to understand is the total prohibition category. Fewer than a dozen states fall under this category. They are states that do not allow marijuana in any form or for any purpose.

The three remaining categories are:

  • Trigger States – Trigger states are states whose marijuana laws trigger automatic rescheduling in response to any such federal action. Rescheduling at the state level is already baked into existing laws.
  • Process States – Process states have laws requiring legislative action in the event of federal rescheduling. It’s expected that lawmakers in these states would modify their respective laws to match the new federal schedule.
  • No Action States – No action states have laws that do not tie their own scheduling to federal scheduling in any way. There is no automatic trigger and state lawmakers are not compelled to act regardless of what Washington does.

At least three of the trigger states – California, Oregon, and Washington – have already passed laws that automatically legalize interstate marijuana commerce should Washington bump marijuana down to Schedule III. You can bet that the industry in those three states is keeping a close eye on the administration’s plans to force rescheduling through.

Possible Impacts on Medical Cannabis

Rescheduling marijuana would likely have no impact at all on states with recreational marijuana programs. Those states already regulate marijuana more loosely than the federal government. It’s highly unlikely they would roll back their laws to ultimately become more restricted than they are today. As for states with medical-only programs, federal rescheduling could have a significant impact.

Utah is one such state. The Beehive State has one of the best medical cannabis laws in the country, though recreational consumption is still not allowed there. Common sense would dictate a rescheduling of cannabis in Utah in order to bring the state in line with federal regulations. Would that mean significant changes to how medical cannabis is produced, processed, and sold in Utah? Perhaps.

Right now, according to Beehive Farmacy, a Salt Lake City dispensary, all medical cannabis consumed in the state must be produced there. It must be processed by state-licensed processors and dispensed through state-approved pharmacies. Rescheduling could potentially open the door to out-of-state producers and processors. It’s not likely state lawmakers would change any of the rules governing retail pharmacy distribution.

Only Prohibitionist States

In all likelihood, the only states that would experience significant impacts from federal rescheduling are those prohibitionist states that still have not budged. Federal rescheduling would force them to at least give serious consideration to allowing medical cannabis. It would be harder to justify continuing a medical ban under such circumstances.

Of course, all of this is speculation. Just because the administration wants marijuana rescheduled doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Thus far, no serious movement on the issue has been observed.

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