Thank you to everyone who has been sending me news reports about Biden's announcement pardoning those Federally convicted of marijuana possession (which actually isn't that many people, but is a big symbolic move).
He also said that his administration will "review how marijuana is scheduled." What does this mean for the prospects of scientific and medical cannabis research in the U.S.? Here's my non-authoritative assessment.
It is clear that the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and the FDA can administratively move cannabis to a less restrictive classification under the controlled substances act (CSA). Depending on which one they chose, this could make research easier, perhaps comparable to that on other prescription drugs. However, given all the politics around marijuana (congressional Republicans are starting to unify around an anti-legalization stance), I suspect that the administration will still maintain fairly stringent regulations.
As far as I understand it, the DEA and FDA could recommend full descheduling (making cannabis federally legal) but that implementing this would require an act of Congress.
How long would the administrative rescheduling take? Probably at least a year, maybe two. The agencies will likely start by convening a scientific review which, given the burgeoning literature on cannabis, may take quite some time to synthesize the available information and make recommendations. Then begins an extended process of writing and publishing draft regulations, waiting for and responding to public comment (which will be immense), and finally publishing the final regulations. I expect that the regulations will specify not simply which schedule that marijuana is being moved to, but how all the existing federal policies around marijuana will change.
So, this is a huge move politically, but don't hold your breath, it still could take a while. And the administration could always get cautious and recommend keeping it in schedule 1. I'll let you know when there are opportunities to make a public comment!
For an article that's free from all the titillation in the mainstream media, see this article from Marijuana Moment.