Rescheduling vs. descheduling, what’s the difference?
The federal Controlled Substances Act
(CSA) divides all known medicines, substances, or drugs into various categories based on their potential for abuse, medical applications and known benefits, and safety considerations. The schedule
runs from least harmful (Schedule V) to most harmful (Schedule I).
Marijuana has been categorized as Schedule I, as harmful as heroin, since the CSA’s inception in 1970.
a drug like marijuana means to move it from one category (Schedule I, reserved for the most dangerous drugs) to another (for example, Schedule II or Schedule III). Rescheduling marijuana would not make it federally legal. It would mainly lessen the barriers to scientific research.
a drug like marijuana means to remove it from the Controlled Substances Act entirely. Descheduling marijuana would make it federally legal, but it would not invalidate state laws prohibiting the possession and distribution of cannabis. Alcohol and tobacco are two examples of intoxicating substances that remain federally unscheduled but are legally regulated by state authorities.
Two ways to reschedule or deschedule marijuana
The easy way to change the federally scheduled status of cannabis is to pass a bill through Congress. Congress has the authority to amend the Controlled Substances Act and move marijuana to another schedule, or remove it from the CSA entirely.
The hard way is to reschedule or deschedule marijuana administratively. This is what President Biden set in motion on Oct. 6.
The ultimate authority over marijuana’s place within (or removal from) the Controlled Substances Act rests with the US Attorney General. But reaching that decision takes time and many, many smaller choices along the way.
Biden may not have time to get it done
Given the time needed to carry out the proposed administrative rescheduling, it’s highly unlikely such a thing could be accomplished during President Biden’s first term.
If Biden were re-elected in 2024, or a Democrat with a favorable opinion of the project were to succeed him, this rescheduling or descheduling could be completed within that 2025-2029 term.
If a Republican were to win the White House in 2024, he or she could end the entire process on the day they take office in Feb. 2025. That’s not a sure thing. Plenty of Republican voters support legalization, even if the party’s older Congressional leaders tend to vote as a block against it.
Rescheduling cannabis involves an arduous process that takes years. Here's how it works, and how Congress could accomplish it quicker and easier.