Marijuana industry experts explain huge changes a federal drug reclassification could bring

A decision to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug would completely change how the industry pays for it, how we think of weed, and what we can learn about it.
Michael Wilson
Posted at 1:47 PM, May 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-10 15:01:15-04

The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration is moving to reclassify marijuana as a less harmful drug in the eyes of the federal government.

Cannabis is currently considered a dangerous Schedule I drug, alongside substances like heroin, LSD and ecstasy. But it could soon be lowered to a Schedule III classification of drugs deemed to have low potential for dependence or addiction.

No, this wouldn't in any way make marijuana federally legal. But it completely shakes up how the industry pays for it, how we think of weed, and what we can learn about it.

Cannabis plant in someone's hand.

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Missouri legalized recreational marijuana in February 2023. In the first year alone, the state reported more than $1 billion in sales.

Mike Wilson is the CEO of Franklin's in Kansas City. As a licensed manufacturer of marijuana products, his company moves a lot of green across Missouri.

"We're the No. 1 blunt manufacturer in the state,” Wilson said.

But it also costs the company a lot of green.

Peter Andreone, attorney at Kennyhertz Perry Law, explained the federal tax burden the industry faces because weed is classified as a Schedule I drug.

"They are disallowed from deducting normal business expenses,” Andreone said.

For some businesses, that can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Customer shops for marijuana at a dispensary.

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Moving to Schedule III would eliminate that burden. It also eliminates decades of stigma.

"I think really something that we do estimate is just how much permission it gives everybody that was just sitting on the fence before," Wilson said. "You know there's a whole generation of people that just won't consume it until it's federally legal, and in their mind, this was the first step towards that."

It wouldn't just change what we think of marijuana. It would change what we know.

"One of the big things that it does is it opens up research opportunities,” Andreone said.

Young male friends smiling while smoking a marijuana joint

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It's very difficult for researchers to experiment with Schedule I drugs. Andreone says it's much easier to get approval to work with Schedule III drugs.

"For things like the gut or the brain or emotions, you know, all the things that users will report, now have the opportunity that we can actually go put science to them,” Wilson said.

It may be months before a decision is made by the DEA. But even the possibility of reclassifying marijuana is a huge deal for the industry.

"I don't want to downplay it at the same time because it is probably the largest shift in federal drug policy in the last 50 years,” Andreone said.

This story was originally published by Grant Stephens at Scripps News Kansas City.