New federal bill would reschedule marijuana as Schedule III

Having marijuana on a lower rung would uphold the rights of states that have legalized the medical use of cannabis, allow for banking activities and create a clearer path for research, says the bill's sponsor

By Alicia Wallace

The latest marijuana-centric bill before Congress would place cannabis as a Schedule III substance, a classification shared by Tylenol with codeine, ketamine and dronabinol.

Two Florida congressmen, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and Democratic Rep. Darren Soto, introduced legislation Thursday that would transfer marijuana to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act from its current standing as a Schedule I substance, the strictest of the classifications.

Having marijuana on a lower rung would uphold the rights of states that have legalized the medical use of cannabis, allow for banking activities and create a clearer path for research, Gaetz said in an interview with The Cannabist.

“I have supported cannabis reform as a state legislator, and I want to see the people that I fought for in my state have access to a legal, high-quality product that’s been well-researched,” Gaetz said.

When Gaetz was a state legislator in 2014 and 2015, he backed legislation to legalize “non-euphoric” marijuana for medical use and a bill to allow terminally ill patients to access full-strength, non-smokeable cannabis. Both were signed into law.

Prior to those efforts, Gaetz stood in opposition to medical cannabis bills. What changed, he said, was watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN special report, “Weed,” which chronicled the stories of medical marijuana patients and the challenges of medical research.

After watching the series, Gaetz said he thought that “somebody should do something about that.”

“Until, I realized I could do that,” he said.

If successful, the yet-to-be-named House Bill 2020 would not affect recreational cannabis businesses in operation.

The legislation, Gaetz said, is aimed at bolstering research and creating an economic boost by allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to bank openly.

“It’s a modest step forward to try to find the most possible common ground,” he said. “I’ve seen that work.”

Marijuana’s Schedule I status has resulted in limitations for research.

Federally approved studies have to utilize a marijuana study drug grown by University of Mississippi, the only federally approved cultivator. Researchers have long argued that the study drug does not accurately represent the potency and strains available to consumers in dispensaries.

In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it would allow privately operated cultivators to apply to grow cannabis for research, and several companies have started the application process.