Republican Senators Say Cannabis Rescheduling Violates International Treaties


Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and two of his Republican colleagues have sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration, urging the law enforcement agency to decline a bid to reschedule marijuana under federal drug laws. Cannabis is currently listed under Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a designation reserved for drugs with no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse.

The letter, which was signed by Romney and Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho and Nebraska’s Senator Pete Ricketts, was addressed to Drug Enforcement Administrator Anne Milgram. All three lawmakers are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the letter, the senators expressed concerns over a Biden administration proposal to reclassify cannabis under the CSA. 

In August 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that the DEA reclassify marijuana by moving it from Schedule I of the CSA to Schedule III, a classification intended for “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” such as Tylenol with codeine or ketamine. The trio of Republican senators urged the DEA administer to carefully consider the HHS proposal.

“Any effort to reschedule marijuana must be based on proven facts and scientific evidence — not the favored policy of a particular administration — and account for our treaty obligations,” the senators wrote in their letter.

The senators noted in their letter that cannabis is controlled by international treaty, “which is not surprising given its known dangers and health risks — and the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has fiercely criticized efforts to legalize marijuana in other countries as a violation of the treaty.”

International policy on marijuana is governed by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international treaty adopted in 1961 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1967. Under the treaty, the United States is required to implement certain controls over drugs covered by the international agreement, including marijuana. The CSA implements those treaty obligations in U.S. domestic law and requires the U.S. Attorney General to place marijuana in the schedule that he or she deems most appropriate to carry out the country’s obligations under the Single Convention.

“In prior rescheduling proceedings, the DEA has determined that section 811(d) requires it to classify marijuana as a schedule I or II drug in order to comply with our treaty obligations under the Single Convention,” the letter continued, referring to the relevant section of the international treaty.

“It is important that the DEA continues to follow the law and abide by our treaty commitments,” the senators wrote. 

The senators also requested more information including whether rescheduling marijuana would affect whether other countries comply with drug treaty provisions “including for deadly narcotics like fentanyl,” asking the agency to respond to a list of questions by April 12.

The letter also cites a recent study that showed that daily marijuana use was associated with a 25% increase in the risk of a heart attack and a 42% increase in the risk of stroke. They also noted that other research has linked cannabis use “with serious psychotic consequences, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”

On Wednesday morning, Romney took to social media to share the letter he and his Republican colleagues sent to Biden administration officials at the DEA.

“To be blunt: rescheduling marijuana may cause the U.S. to violate obligations under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs,” Romney wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Efforts to reschedule marijuana must be based on evidence, not politics, and @DEAhq must ensure we abide by our treaty commitments.”

Despite the senators’ fears, Jason Adelstone, a senior associate attorney with national cannabis law firm Vicente LLP, said that international treaties do not preclude the federal government from reclassifying cannabis under Schedule III of the CSA.

“The erroneous and unsubstantiated fears about marijuana are based on fictional ‘war on drugs’ themes and not the current state of medical and scientific knowledge about marijuana,” he wrote in an email to High Times. “The letter contained several incorrect statements, including the mistaken assumption that moving marijuana to Schedule III would somehow violate the Single Convention.”

“However, the Single Convention specifically endorses ensuring medical and scientific access to controlled substances,” Adelstone continued. “Moving marijuana to Schedule III would better promote medical and scientific access to marijuana.”

The DEA is currently reviewing the HHS proposal to reschedule marijuana, but the agency has not announced a timeline for the decision.





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