DEA chief grilled on Biden’s plans to deschedule marijuana

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) demanded further information from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) about its plan to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs during a House Judiciary hearing Thursday.

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance during which she informed committee members that the agency has "not been given a specific timeline” to review and reevaluate marijuana’s classification.

President Biden put out a marijuana reform statement in October 2022 that called on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the attorney general to reevaluate the federal law’s scheduling of marijuana.

The DEA must receive HHS’s review and recommendation to conduct its own evaluation process before coming to a scheduling decision, according to Milgram.

To Gaetz’s dismay, the DEA has yet to receive any such materials from HHS.

“That's unsettling, isn't it? When you don't even know a timeline, it doesn't really make it seem like something's front of mind,” Gaetz said to Milgram after she disclosed the status of this procedure.

Cohen supported Gaetz’s stance on the matter, forming a rare bipartisan agreement in the House.

Cohen claimed that the federal discourse around marijuana has always been “governmental gibberish,” and that “the government has messed this up forever.”

Drug scheduling is used by the DEA to create lists of substances ranked by their acceptable medical use and the level of use considered abusive. 

Marijuana currently stands on the Schedule 1 list, the classification meant for the world’s most dangerous drugs. Other substances on this list include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

“What I will say to you, not specific to marijuana, but just overall, is that I am committed on trying to move things as quickly as we can,” Milgram said in response to Cohen’s question whether the department can do anything to speed up the process.

After hearing Milgram’s answer, Cohen told the administrator that he would help her out by calling his former colleague, the HHS secretary, today.

“We’re going to get this moving,” he added.

Gaetz also mentioned that marijuana’s current status provokes opioid dependencies and accidental fentanyl overdoses. 

The Florida Republican explained that without medical marijuana, patients with chronic pain are more likely to turn to opioids to manage their symptoms, which is often the gateway to an addiction.

Fentanyl, which Milgram said is one of the deadliest drugs to exist, was not classified as a Schedule 1 substance when Biden put out his marijuana reform statement in 2022.

Fentanyl related substances were moved to the Schedule 1 list in 2018, but fentanyl itself remains under a Schedule 2 classification on account of its medical value.

“I really hope we get this done,” Gaetz told Milgram. “We're two years into the Biden administration. And I honestly had hoped that by now, we would have already descheduled marijuana from the Schedule 1 list.”