The FDA could consider changes to marijuana scheduling, but doesn’t have the final word

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The government agency’s views on cannabis could mean the industry is about to receive an upgrade

Yesterday, a senior Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official made it clear that the agency is considering certain flexibilities when it comes to the federal government’s review of marijuana scheduling. As many already know, President Joe Biden called for the plant to be studied and possibly removed from the Controlled Substances list. The action was described as a very high priority, although it appears that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the entity that has the final say.

While it is true that the FDA is tasked with conducting the medical and scientific evaluation of marijuana, it is the DEA that will make the final decision on any possible scheduling decision. The FDA official pointed out that even doing scientific research on cannabis is an extremely complicated task to undertake because of its restrictive Schedule I status.

FDA Principal Deputy Assistant Commissioner Janet Woodcock appeared at a webinar hosted by the Council for Federal Cannabis Regulation (CFCR) and Thompson Coburn LLC to discuss the agency’s role in the scheduling review and the unique challenges of studying Schedule I drugs such as cannabis. She noted that FDA, with the help of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is responsible for the “scientific and medical evaluation” to develop a scheduling recommendation.

With this in mind, because federal drug classification is dictated by the DEA’s statute in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it is precisely this agency that makes the final call on the removal of Schedule I substances. Woodcock also said that it is “very difficult” for scientists to study cannabis under current DEA policies.

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