Updated on February 22, 2024
4 min read

How Marijuana Rescheduling Affects Addiction Recovery

On August 30, 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its recommendation to change the legal status of marijuana (cannabis) from a Schedule I to Schedule III controlled substance.

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), this change would mean lessening the restrictions on the drug. More importantly, this means that marijuana would be recognized as a drug with a moderate to low potential for psychological and physical dependence.1

By rescheduling marijuana, the federal government acknowledges that the substance does have medical uses. This would put marijuana in the same category as drugs like:2

Although this change wouldn’t legalize marijuana under federal law, it does mean that Internal Revenue Code 280E would no longer apply to marijuana businesses. This will lead to a much lower effective tax rate for businesses across the industry. 

Can the New Marijuana Classification Affect Addiction Treatment?

The impact of making marijuana more accessible is complicated. Studies support mixed results on this topic, and more research is still needed to determine the rescheduling’s effect on marijuana treatment and recovery.

Chad Elkin, MD, a board-certified addiction medicine specialist from National Addiction Specialists, mentioned that this change wouldn’t have a significant impact on marijuana treatment or recovery. However, he did mention that the ease of access may increase the risk factor for substance use disorder (SUD).

One study concluded that making marijuana more accessible will increase the need for effective treatment and prevention programs.5

Effects of Marijuana’s Reclassification on Substance Addiction

Dr. Lea McMahon, the Chief Clinical Officer at Symetria Recovery, says that marijuana can still negatively affect those with SUDs and potentially cause further issues. 

Many believe that legalizing marijuana can increase the risk of adolescent substance abuse or cannabis use disorder (CUD). However, there are other studies that claim legalizing marijuana doesn’t increase the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.6

Loosening the restrictions on marijuana will make monitoring substance use and education on safe usage more vital.5

Does the Classification Affect Access to Medical Marijuana?

Changing the classification of marijuana to a Schedule III drug can help businesses obtain a registration from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Additionally, this change can potentially expand the accessibility and product selection of medical marijuana.

Dr. Elkin and Dr. McMahon agreed that the change would increase access to medical marijuana, making it easier to get a prescription in states where it’s legal. The ease of access would be beneficial for people who already need medical marijuana to manage their conditions.

Furthermore, rescheduling marijuana could have a significant impact on cannabis research. Due to its Schedule I classification, researching cannabis is typically restricted.

However, the new classification can help expand cannabis research and its effects on the human body. This would also help pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers to make new drugs from the cannabinoids found in marijuana.3


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Public Health and Safety Implications of Marijuana's New Classification

Although it won’t be as restricted as Schedule I substances, marijuana is still a drug with harmful side effects. Fortunately, any business that manufactures and distributes a Schedule III controlled substance must obtain a proper federal registration from the DEA to ensure the safety of cannabis products.3

Additionally, people will need to have a valid prescription authorizing the use and possession of any Schedule III substance. This can help people obtain the proper dose they need for medical marijuana and reduce misuse. 

Rescheduling marijuana can also make legal cannabis products more price-competitive, which can shrink the cost disparity between regulated and unregulated markets. This can significantly affect illicit cannabis products, potentially reducing the risk of using laced weed.4

Why is Marijuana Getting Rescheduled?

The HHS explains that cannabis currently has accepted medical use for treatment in the United States. Additionally, the DEA administrator, Anne Milgram, says that marijuana meets the findings for control in Schedule III.1

This means marijuana has a moderate to low potential for abuse. They also determined that the public health risk of marijuana was lower compared to other Schedule I or II drugs like:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Benzodiazepines

Furthermore, the overdose deaths attributed to marijuana are lower compared to Schedule I or II drugs.7

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The HHS has determined that marijuana meets the criteria for a Schedule III classification. This means that marijuana has been recognized to have accepted medical use and has a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.

Making marijuana a Schedule III substance puts it in the same category as anabolic steroids, Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, etc. The new classification may make medical marijuana more accessible and expand research around cannabis.

However, it’s important to note that marijuana still has harmful, if not dangerous, side effects. More research is needed to fully understand the impact of rescheduling marijuana on treatment, recovery, and drug use.

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Updated on February 22, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on February 22, 2024

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