Recreational marijuana has been legalized in a handful of states, but it might have its biggest victory in 2016: the reclassification of marijuana by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The DEA will consider rescheduling marijuana “in the first half of 2016,” Fortune noted.
The administration classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, considering it in the same class as heroin and LSD with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Given the growing public support for marijuana legalization, the public acknowledgment from the DEA that it will revisit its stance on the drug is a sign of hope.
That sign of hope, however, might be misleading.
“This is the fourth time the DEA has responded to a petition asking it to reclassify marijuana. It rejected the first three petitions from six to 16 years after they were filed,” Jacob Sullum wrote. “I see no reason to think the DEA’s answer to the two most recent rescheduling petitions will be any different from its answer to the first three.”
The federal government isn’t known as an institution that’s liberal on drug use, or a leading light for reform. States have legalized, decriminalized, and reduced state penalties for the use of marijuana, but the federal government hasn’t made accommodating legal changes. Federal agents continue to raid marijuana dispensaries in states where its sale is legal. Banks are hesitant to accept accounts from legal dispensaries for fear of crossing federal law. The federal government has yet to adapt to state-level changes. A rescheduling of how the DEA treats marijuana would be a dramatic change.
Proponents of the reclassification point to preliminary data from Colorado showing a boom in tax collection thanks to legal marijuana. Were the DEA to reverse course, states and the federal government could collect significant revenue. That, however, would require an about-face from the federal agency.