How Making Cannabis a Schedule III Drug Could Affect Oregon’s Green Future

Hold off on traveling outside Oregon with your stash for the time being.

Potlander 5029 (Sophia Mick)

The proposal to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug is in full swing. For those who haven’t heard, this would change cannabis’s current federal classification from Schedule I, which the Drug Enforcement Administration labels as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” to a less constrained Schedule III, or “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”

Which is to say, the process by which cannabis becomes a federally accepted form of medicine has begun. Ideally, in a few short months, cannabis will no longer be considered a federal hazard to humanity.

Whether you partake or abstain, cannabis has become a ubiquitous part of the Portland experience. For the average local user, federal rescheduling may not elicit the same breathy swoon of relief that state recreational legalization did, but the wide potential impacts will be felt even here.

Some brief history: The timeline of cannabis’s federal shuffle from illicit life ruiner to certified therapeutic herb began with the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, aka the Farm Bill. That bill authorized nationwide hemp production and removed hemp from the DEA’s schedule of controlled substances. Fast forward to 2023 and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officially recommended that the Department of Justice reschedule cannabis. On April 30, 2024, an official proposal came into play, and by mid-May, the DEA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The notice is now a few weeks into a 60-day public comment period before it potentially moves through a long approval process.

It’s not a short road. And while the implications that rescheduling could have for the industry at large remain to be seen, here’s what we cannathusiasts predict—or hope—could happen with this long-awaited shift in the federal attitude toward cannabis.

More Opportunities for In-Depth Research

Schedule III status could facilitate more scientific cannabis research. The new status could make obtaining research funding far less cumbersome. Essentially, we could anticipate new cannabinoid discoveries on the daily. The University of California Riverside, for example, already has an established Center for Cannabinoid Research with current studies on such topics as prenatal maternal consumption, intestinal function, along with cannabis and neurobiology.

Oregon State University conducts research on industrial hemp products, although marijuana remains tricky under federal law. University policy “prohibits faculty from conducting research that involves the possession, use, or distribution of marijuana unless such research is in compliance with already established guidelines set forth by federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, Food and Drug Administration, and National Institute of Drug Abuse.”

Less Reliance on Cash

Banking restrictions keep cannabis a highly volatile cash business. Even though only full federal legalization would secure banking access, rescheduling could make financial institutions far more willing to work with cannabusinesses. And those reduced legal risks could make insurance, security, and logistical support easier to obtain as well. Cannabis is a significant, legitimate industry, but its antiquated status prevents taxpaying business owners from deducting ordinary business expenses. Rescheduling could change that, but as it stands, the details of the DEA’s notice are vague. “‘Ambiguous’ and ‘speculative’ are the two words I’ve been using to summarize the DEA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” says Steve Rodgers, chief operating officer of Theorem Cannabis. “My suggestion is to prepare your statement on how you think the rescheduling will impact you and submit it to the DOJ once they open it up for public comments.”

Insurance Coverage

In a rescheduled ideal cannaworld, health insurance companies could cover marijuana-based treatments for their patients. Again, however, the DEA’s published notice is too nebulous to grasp its implications completely. “I’m afraid the only response is that it’s too early to tell,” says Mark Pettinger of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. “Rulemaking needs to take place and be finalized before any state with adult use or medical cannabis use will be able to alter its rules. And that will depend on the details.”

FDA Quality Control

With FDA oversight, users could see an increase in dosage consistency, more clarity in labeling, and theoretically safer consumption options, particularly as the last remaining prohibition states come into the recreational fold, establishing frameworks for their own cannabis industries, and physicians are allowed to prescribe cannabis as medicine. (Currently, even doctors in recreationally legal states can’t prescribe cannabis; they may only “recommend” it, lest federal law enforcement accuse them of prescribing drugs that are federally illegal.)

Bottom Line

What rescheduling does is acknowledge the medical use of cannabis at the federal level. What it doesn’t do is negate established state laws on marijuana, meaning users can still face charges at the state level. Cannabis has been decriminalized in Oregon since the ‘70s, but cannabis laws vary widely from state to state.

Rescheduling is not tantamount to cannabis legalization nationwide—it’s simply a drug reclassification. Interstate canna-commerce has yet to enter the chat and is widely regarded as a post-federal legalization conversation. Unless cannabis is taken off the schedule completely—fingers crossed—state laws remain paramount, so maybe hold off on traveling outside of Oregon with your stash for the time being. Immediate changes to the marketplace may not be felt, but there’s hope for positive change in the long run.

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