AMNA NAWAZ: This month, President Biden announced the Department of Justice is planning a historic shift in the federal approach to marijuana, reclassifying it from what’s known as a Schedule I drug to Schedule III.

This would make federal treatment of marijuana far less restrictive and consider it less dangerous, putting it in the same category as Tylenol with codeine and ketamine.

It would classify it as a drug that has potential for abuse, while still being acknowledged for its medicinal benefits.

The president talked about the decision in a video posted on X. JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: Far too many lives have been upended because of failed approach to marijuana.

And I’m committed to righting those wrongs.

You have my word on it.

AMNA NAWAZ: Joining us now is Natalie Fertig.

She’s federal cannabis policy reporter for Politico.

Natalie, thanks for being here.

NATALIE FERTIG, Federal Cannabis Policy Reporter, Politico: Thanks for having me.

AMNA NAWAZ: So this is the next step in a reclassification process that the president began back in 2022, right?

So walk us through the timeline here.

Where in that process are we now?

NATALIE FERTIG: So, we just began a 60-day comment period, where the DOJ said, we have now made our formal decision.

We have issued a draft rule that we’re going to reschedule cannabis.

So the 60 days started last week, and now this could end five months from now or this could end six or seven years from now, depending on if there’s legal challenges in that process.

AMNA NAWAZ: OK, so still a lot we don’t yet know, right?

NATALIE FERTIG: Right.

AMNA NAWAZ: We should note, we have seen a real sea change when it comes to cannabis legalization in America over the past decade or plus.

If you take a look at the map, some 24 states have legalized marijuana possession for adults.

Some 38 states have established medical marijuana programs.

So more than half of all Americans now live in states where marijuana is recreational, legal at the state level.

So what does this classification or what would this classification change in a practical way?

NATALIE FERTIG: There’s a lot of things that it would not change, actually.

But the main difference that it would have is on the cannabis industry itself in the states where it is legal.

It would change the amount of taxes that they have to pay, meaning there might be more money in the cannabis industry’s pocket, which means they could expand in legal states.

AMNA NAWAZ: And what does that mean?

There’s some, what, 15,000 cannabis dispensaries in the country right now.

So, potential tax changes?

Does it change how they interact with banks or anything else?

NATALIE FERTIG: It’s not clear exactly how the big banks will approach the change in schedule.

That’s one of those remain to be seen once this — all the dust settles.

But what — it would have an impact on the amount of taxes that they pay.

AMNA NAWAZ: It’s also been reported that dispensaries would have to register with the DEA, like other pharmacies would.

Is that true?

And how would that change the industry?

NATALIE FERTIG: Yes.

So, under Schedule III or under Schedule I, where they currently are, they need to register with the DEA.

They do not currently.

And so one of the other questions of rescheduling is, will the DEA start to enforce some of the rules that the cannabis industry is currently already breaking, like getting registered with the DEA?

AMNA NAWAZ: So this is something President Biden mentioned in that video he released too, was the impact on the criminal justice system, in particular, people who have already been convicted of marijuana-related crimes.

What would this change mean for them, either retroactively or people who are currently incarcerated?

NATALIE FERTIG: One of the biggest criticisms of Biden’s rescheduling movement is that it doesn’t have a big impact on people who have criminal records, especially at the state level.

The majority of people who have criminal records for cannabis are in the state criminal justice system, not in the federal criminal justice system.

Biden did issue some pardons for people with low-level nonviolent marijuana offenses, but that’s just a couple thousand people.

AMNA NAWAZ: We do know the proposal needs to move through the DEA.

How are they likely to look at this?

Do we know if that proposal is going to move through, and when would we see that kind of approval?

NATALIE FERTIG: Yes, so what we just saw recently was the DEA and the DOJ coming out and saying we have looked at the review that was sent to us by HHS, and we are recommending a reschedule.

People get to comment on that.

There might be some legal challenges to that.

And so, when the dust settles, there would need to be some big changes or big challenges for the DEA to change its mind on that.

It’s likely to be a reschedule.

But then that reschedule is also likely to get challenged in the courts, which means in the end this might be up to the court system.

AMNA NAWAZ: It’s so fascinating too when you take a look back and you see the America in which this is all unfolding.

We can now say — there was a study published in the journal “Addiction” last month that showed marijuana use now surpasses daily alcohol consumption in the U.S. for the first time in history.

And Americans have very different views when it comes to pot right now.

You look at the latest Gallup numbers from a poll last year, found some 70 percent of adults now support legalization.

That is the highest number ever reported in that survey.

What does your reporting tell you about the why behind all of this, why President Biden is pushing for these changes now?

NATALIE FERTIG: Well, a big part of that sea change has come from the youngest generation.

Gen Z and millennials, my generation, are much more likely to be consuming cannabis than generations before them.

And they’re also much more likely to poll in favor of cannabis.

And Biden is heading into a really important election right now.

He’s not necessarily doing as well among those voters, the younger voters, as he would like to.

So there’s some hope that, potentially, amongst Democrats, something like this with marijuana could push some of those voters that are skeptical or annoyed or frustrated with the president to turn out to vote in November.

AMNA NAWAZ: We will see if it does, in fact.

Natalie Fertig, federal cannabis policy reporter for Politico, great to have you here.

Thanks so much.

NATALIE FERTIG: Thanks.

Thanks for having me.

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