A long-awaited decision that could determine the future of the U.S. marijuana industry is expected Thursday.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said late Wednesday that it would publish its response to a congressional petition to reschedule marijuana in the Federal Register on Thursday morning.
The announcement could have far-reaching implications for the industry, particularly if the agency chooses to change the way it regulates marijuana. Marijuana is currently filed under Schedule I, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and has no accepted medical value.
The DEA’s response could move the drug to a less-restrictive schedule, which would allow more research under continued regulation. It could also deschedule it, which would completely remove it from the agency’s regulation, or take no action. The DEA’s email didn’t indicate which course the agency might select.
If marijuana were to be rescheduled, the current infrastructure within states that have legalized the drug for medical purposes could be completely changed. For the past 20 years, states that have legalized medical marijuana have done so outside the workings of the pharmaceutical industry, using doctor’s “recommendations” instead of prescriptions and providing it through dispensaries rather than pharmacies.
Rescheduling medical marijuana could mean it would be treated like Vicodin, OxyContin or Adderall and be subject to the standard prescription process.
Half the states in the U.S. have legalized cannabis for medical use, while four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Those states have operated independently of federal agencies with regard to their marijuana industries, which has contributed to some regulatory issues regarding pesticide use and the use of medical marijuana to treat minors.
A relaxing of regulations could bridge the divide between state and federal governments. It could also make the nearly $7 billion industry more attractive to established companies in the health care space.