The head of the top U.S. health agency is confirming news that his department is recommending marijuana rescheduling—posting about the development at exactly 4:20pm ET in an apparent wink to cannabis culture.
Amid a flurry of reactions to reports that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is advising the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, Secretary Xavier Becerra shared a post about it at the symbolic time on X (the social media site formerly known as Twitter).
We’ve worked to ensure that a scientific evaluation be completed and shared expeditiously. pic.twitter.com/p84x8p07sP
— Secretary Xavier Becerra (@SecBecerra) August 30, 2023
If anyone thinks the timing is a coincidence, they probably haven’t been closely following Becerra’s account, as the Biden cabinet official has made a habit of talking about marijuana policy on social media at 4:20 on the dot.
On the day that President Joe Biden announced the scheduling review, for example, the secretary posted about his commitment to following through on the directive—at 4:20.
— Secretary Xavier Becerra (@SecBecerra) October 6, 2022
Becerra then shared a Marijuana Moment article in December that offered updates on the administrative cannabis scheduling review—also at 4:20.
— Secretary Xavier Becerra (@SecBecerra) December 5, 2022
Now his cheeky social media team has done it again, playing into the number most closely associated with marijuana on the day that it was revealed that HHS is recommending a significant loosening of federal restrictions on cannabis.
As the saying goes: “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern.”
The secretary’s post on Wednesday came as numerous lawmakers, advocates and state officials reacted to the scheduling development, with many applauding the potential reform while others pushed for complete legalization.
“I can now share that, following the data and science, [HHS] has responded to [Biden’s] directive to me for the Department to provide a scheduling recommendation for marijuana to the DEA,” Becerra, who told Marijuana Moment in June that his agency planned to complete its work this year, said in the new post. “We’ve worked to ensure that a scientific evaluation be completed and shared expeditiously.”
While there’s significant excitement about the development, nothing is final about the scheduling decision. DEA said it “will now initiate its review” taking into account FDA’s findings, but it makes the final call and isn’t required to follow through on a Schedule III reclassification.
A White House spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that the “administrative process is an independent process led by HHS and DOJ and guided by the evidence,” so president’s team will not be commenting on the agency’s recommendation at this time.
Politically, moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III would allow the president to say that he’s helped accomplish a major reform, facilitating an administrative review that may result in rescheduling more than 50 years after cannabis was placed in the most restrictive category as the federal government launched a war on drugs.
This could also bolster momentum for congressional efforts to further reform federal cannabis laws. As lawmakers come back from the August recess and continue to try to pass cannabis banking legislation, they will be able to point to the HHS recommendation as evidence of the urgency to normalize the industry.
Of course, advocates’ highest hopes for the HHS review was that it would lead to a descheduling recommendation, where marijuana would be completely removed from the CSA and treated the same as alcohol in the eyes of the government. Some have also voiced concerns that a Schedule III reclassification could negatively impact state markets, with FDA potentially assuming a more hands-on role with respect to cannabis.
Meanwhile, last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) pressed DEA Administrator Anne Milgram to expand on her recent remarks about the origin and timeline of the president’s marijuana scheduling review directive. Specifically, he’s asking for a copy of a letter that Milgram said the president sent to the attorney general and HHS secretary last year directing the review. He also wants an update on whether the administrator asked HHS about the timetable for their work, as she told him she’d do during a recent House Judiciary subcommittee hearing.
As far as the alleged rescheduling letter from Biden is concerned, an attorney filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with HHS in an effort to obtain a copy of the letter. But earlier this month, the department said it had “no records” of such a document.