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White House's drug czar on the benefits of shifting marijuana to a Schedule 3 drug

Dr. Rahul Gupta leads the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Rebecca Blackwell
Dr. Rahul Gupta leads the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. He says that research has shown that there are proper medical uses of marijuana.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, talks about the changes in marijuana science over the past half-century.

The Department of Justice recently announced that the next step for rescheduling marijuana has taken place.

Marijuana has historically been classified as a Schedule 1 drug — those with no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

The Biden administration is working to move marijuana to a Schedule 3 drug, those that have a medical use and moderate to low potential for abuse.

WGCU's Cary Barbor spoke to Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to get more detail on this change.

“Schedule 1, where marijuana currently resides, is one that is defined by having no medical benefit and high risk for addiction. It is in the company of drugs like heroin, LSD and ecstasy,” said Dr. Gupta.

“It's been quite a bit of science that has developed over the last few years, certainly since more than a half-century ago when those placements happened, that show us that this may not be where it belongs. So the move to Schedule 3, where there are recognizable medical benefits to a substance, is one that is a recommendation based on science and evidence.

"It does make sense to make sure that we're pursuing science and evidence when it comes to medications and use those medications for Americans with chronic illnesses, chronic pain, diseases like cancer. It also allows us to expand on the research and development both for users as well as for new drugs potential in the future for other ailments. And then finally, too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana over the past more than a half-century. And that's why, back in 2022, President Biden had requested that Department of Justice and Health and Human Services services conduct this review.”

Dr. Gupta went on to explain that Biden has pardoned some people who were in prison on federal marijuana-related charges. A pardon for state charges locally would only be possible if Florida changes its laws.

If marijuana is moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 3, it can be prescribed by a licensed provider.

“Any drug that is between Schedule 2 and Schedule 5 can be prescribed when appropriate by a licensed provider who has a (Drug Enforcement Administration) registration, like I do. For a full Schedule 1, there is no approved medical use. So this change would allow providers, clinicians across the country to be able to prescribe marijuana as a schedule 3 drug,” said Dr. Gupta.

Gupta goes on to say that research has shown that there are proper medical uses of marijuana.

“One of the things that we have to focus is the science. But today, the science takes us in a direction that there are some medical uses of marijuana. We must allow Americans to take advantage of that, for example, those who are suffering from chronic pain, other chronic illnesses, cancer, this may be something of a better option for them,” he said.

“At the same time, we must understand that for children whose brains are still developing, up to the age of 22 to 25, it's important that any illicit substance, whether it be marijuana or others, not interfere in the development of the brain. So prevention for young people of any drugs is still important and key.

"But at the same time, allowing us to be able to have appropriate science-based categorization of drugs that can help Americans is important. Of course, the increasing concentrations of THC and others are something that concerns all of us. And one way to address that is by having it as Schedule 3.”

Categorizing marijuana as a Schedule 3 drug, he says, will allow for more research.

A 60-day public comment period will begin soon, after which the Department of Justice will make a final scheduling determination.

Copyright 2024 WGCU

Cary Barbor is the local host of All Things Considered and a reporter for WGCU. She was a producer for Martha Stewart Radio on Sirius XM, where she hosted a live interview show with authors of new books called Books and Authors. She was a producer for The Leonard Lopate Show, a live, daily show that covered arts, culture, politics, and food on New York City’s public radio station WNYC. She also worked as a producer on Studio 360, a weekly culture magazine; and The Sunday Long Read, a show that features in-depth conversations with journalists and other writers. She has filed stories for The Pulse and Here & Now. In addition to radio, she has a career writing for magazines, including Salon, Teen Vogue, New York, Health, and More. She has published short stories and personal essays and is always working on a novel. She was a Knight Journalism Fellow, where she studied health reporting at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and followed epidemiologists around Kenya and Alaska. She has a B.A. in English from Lafayette College and an M.A. in Literature from the University of Massachusetts.