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The Biden administration advances its aim to reclassify marijuana

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Biden administration is making moves to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug. Now, if the change is approved, it could have big impacts on the marijuana industry, but there's still a long way to go before any changes actually take place. NPR's White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram is here to talk us through it. So what exactly happened yesterday? What did the DOJ do when it comes to marijuana?

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Yeah, well, the crux of what's happening here is that the attorney general Merrick Garland is recommending to the White House that marijuana get reclassified. Right now, marijuana is a Schedule I drug. That means it's in the same category of drugs like heroin and LSD, which is the most strict category. It means there are a lot of extra rules and regulations on substances that are a Schedule I. What the DOJ is proposing, though, A, is that marijuana now get categorized as a Schedule III drug. That category includes drugs like ketamine and testosterone. The rules around those drugs are much less strict and drugs in this category are also considered to have some medical use.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So Schedule III - does that mean that marijuana is now legal everywhere?

SHIVARAM: No.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

SHIVARAM: No, no, no. It would still be illegal under federal law. And of course, you know, different states have their own laws when it comes to marijuana. All of that still stays the same. But this proposed rule would largely impact the marijuana industry and businesses. There's a part of the tax code that prevents businesses from getting deductions on selling any substance that is a Schedule I drug. So this would give businesses a decent boost here. And it would also open the door for more types of medical research into marijuana. Advocates of this change are saying that there's a long road ahead on marijuana reform, but this move here by the Biden administration is still a really big deal.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so the DOJ is making this proposal. How long will it take to get all finalized?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, here's where it starts to get tricky, because this process has already been going on for quite a while, and there's not a super clear timeline here. President Biden kicked this off back in 2022. Now this proposal is going through a review process, which will include a period of time where the rule will be open for public comment. And some people will definitely argue against it for health and safety reasons. All of this is going to take time - like, months and months and months. I've talked to a few cannabis lawyers and folks in the industry who told me they would be shocked if this all gets wrapped up before the election in November.

MARTÍNEZ: Ah, the election - OK, so then how much is this going to impact voters' opinions? I mean, will the Biden - Joe Biden get any kind of enthusiasm boost for working on this issue?

SHIVARAM: You know, it's a good question, but I will say it's probably too soon to say, given that this rule isn't even finalized yet. But I will say marijuana reform is an issue that invigorates young voters and voters of color. And those are two groups that Biden really needs support from if he's going to win re-election in November. But those are also two groups that are really unhappy with the president right now. Biden keeps trying to focus on issues like marijuana, student debt relief, abortion, which are all things that fire up young people in particular. But so far, it hasn't necessarily been working when it comes to his approval numbers or voters' enthusiasm about his campaign.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Thank you very much.

SHIVARAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.