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As the U.S. moves to reclassify marijuana as less dangerous, could more states legalize it?


With the US government moving towards Reclassification of marijuana As a less dangerous drug, there may be little immediate impact in the 10 states that have not already legalized cannabis for widespread medical or recreational use by adults.

But marijuana legalization advocates hope the federal regulatory shift will eventually change the minds — and votes — of some state policymakers who have been reluctant to embrace marijuana.

Read more: What does marijuana reclassification mean for Americans?

said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for cannabis legalization.

Schweich added that although the proposal to reclassify marijuana would not make it legal, it is “a historic and meaningful change at the federal level that I think will give many state legislators a little less hesitation in supporting the bill.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has proposed converting marijuana from a “Schedule I” drug, which includes heroin and LSD, to a less regulated “Schedule III” drug, which includes ketamine and some stimulants. Federal rules allow some medical uses of Schedule III drugs. But the proposed change faces a long regulatory process, which may not be completed until after the presidential election.

Meanwhile, the proposed federal change could add new arguments for supporters of ballot measures seeking to legalize marijuana. Florida voters are scheduled to decide on a constitutional amendment allowing recreational cannabis use next November. Public votes are also possible in several other states, including South Dakota, where supporters plan to submit signatures Tuesday in a third attempt to legalize recreational marijuana.

After two previous failed attempts, a group from Nebraska is collecting signatures to get two measures on this year’s ballot: one to legalize medical marijuana and another to allow private companies to grow and sell it.

In North Dakota, criminal defense attorney Mark Freese is a former police officer who supports a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. He said the proposed federal reclassification could greatly help the initiative campaign this year. North Dakota voters rejected legalization measures in 2018 and 2022, but approved medical marijuana in 2016.

“The bottom line is that this move will allow for an intelligent and informed discussion about cannabis legislation rather than giving in to the historical objection that marijuana is a dangerous drug like LSD or black tar heroin,” Freese said.

Others aren’t sure reclassification will make a difference.

Jackie Winters, president of an Idaho group that supports a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana, said it’s difficult to convince potential supporters to sign their petition.

“People are literally afraid to sign anything in Idaho that has to do with marijuana,” she said. “They are afraid the police will come to their house.”

The proposed federal change may have little impact in the 24 states that have already legalized recreational marijuana for adults, or in the additional 14 states that allow medical marijuana. But advocates are hoping to sway opinions in a dozen other states that either ban cannabis entirely or have limited access to products with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that gets people high.

Read more: What is cannabinoid hypersyndrome? Here’s what to know, and why experts say it’s on the rise

Georgia has allowed patients with certain diseases and with a doctor’s approval to consume low-THC cannabis products since 2015. But until last year, there was no legal way to buy them. Eight dispensaries now sell the products.

The Georgia Board of Pharmacy last year also issued licenses for low-THC products to 23 independent pharmacies, but the federal Drug Enforcement Administration warned pharmacies in November that distributing medical marijuana violated federal law.

Don Randolph, executive director of the Georgia Pharmacy Association, said the federal reclassification of marijuana could open the way for pharmacists to treat marijuana products “like any other prescription drug.”

In other states, such as Tennessee, elected leaders remain reluctant to support medical or recreational marijuana. Tennessee Senate President Randy McNally, a Republican, had previously said he would not support changing state law until the federal government reclassifies marijuana.

But after reports about the DEA’s recommended reclassification, McNally remains hesitant to support any push to legalize medical marijuana.

He said Thursday that removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs “will only start the conversation in my mind. It will not end it. There will still be many issues to resolve if the reduction to Schedule III occurs as proposed.”

A proposal to legalize medical marijuana died in a Kansas Senate committee without a vote this year, and an attempt to force discussion in the full Senate failed by a wide margin. The strongest and most influential opposition came from law enforcement officials, who raised concerns that any legislation would lead to organized crime and make it difficult to assess whether people are driving under the influence of alcohol.

Kansas Bureau of Investigation Director Tony Matvey considers the DEA’s efforts to reschedule marijuana “misguided and politicized,” KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said.

The chief of the South Carolina police force also opposed efforts to legalize medical marijuana, saying it opens the door to other drug use. A legalization bill backed by Republican state Sen. Tom Davis passed the Senate this year but stalled in a House committee.

“It’s hard to rewire a lot of people who are used to thinking about marijuana a certain way,” said Davis, who has pledged to push the medical marijuana bill again next year if re-elected.

Although Iowa and Texas do not fully embrace medical marijuana, they do have laws that allow limited access to certain cannabis products with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Some Texas cities have passed ordinances allowing small amounts of marijuana. But a similar effort in Lubbock, home of Texas Tech University, was mocked in a Facebook post by Republican state Rep. Dustin Burroughs as part of the left’s “national effort to undermine public safety.”

In Wyoming, pro-marijuana efforts through ballot initiatives and legislation have gone nowhere. Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, has been ambivalent about legalizing medical marijuana and opposes legal recreational pot. The GOP-led Legislature has not even discussed the latest bill to decriminalize marijuana and legalize medical marijuana.

However, one organizer, who helped with unsuccessful petition efforts in 2022 and 2023, hopes the federal reclassification of marijuana will prompt more lawmakers to support legalization.

“The resistance will be much less visible,” said advocate Apollo Bazile of the legislation.

Associated Press writers Jeff Emme in Atlanta, Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho; Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, Jack Dora in Bismarck, North Dakota, Hannah Fingerhout in Des Moines, Iowa, Mead Grover in Cheyenne, Wyoming, John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Kimberly Crosi in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report. .



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