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Proposal to federally reclassify marijuana met with excitement, questions and hope for future in Colorado

The DEA will propose reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I drug to Schedule III drug, the Associated Press first reported.
Posted at 7:27 AM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 14:12:26-04

DENVER — A historic change in drug policy is on the horizon, as The Associated Press revealed a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) proposal to reclassify marijuana.

In the reported federal proposal, marijuana would go from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug. It would not legalize cannabis on the federal level.

It is far from finalized at this point — since it would still need to pass through the White House Office of Management and Budget and DEA public comment.

But those in Colorado's cannabis industry are paying close attention.

“It's kind of a double-edged sword, right," Austin Martinson, the owner of Karmaceuticals, a Denver dispensary, said. “We all want marijuana to be legal and to be regulated as commerce."

Martinson said his partner fears the move would flood the local cannabis market with big businesses.

“We've put in 15 years, and like, hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars into our store and our grows to make sure that we can survive and compete. And now if it goes regulation, all of a sudden, we're competing against Walmart, Costco, and you know, Amazon and Facebook, and whoever else decides to get involved in this. And that's obviously going to kill all the mom and pops that we love in Colorado, that make the culture so fun," Martinson explained.

Marijuana should have never been classified as a Schedule I drug, according to Martinson, which is why he ultimately supports the potential change.

“It's interesting to see if it's just a possible political ploy in an election year, or if it's actually going to pave a path, and what kind of path as you're going to be leaving it to the states," Martinson said.

In October, Karmaceuticals was robbed and thousands of dollars were stolen, along with product. Since the reclassification would not legalize marijuana, it is unclear if dispensary access to banks would be changed. However, the taxes paid by Colorado cannabis businesses would likely decrease.

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If marijuana were moved to the Schedule III classification, "applicable penalties for some offenses would be reduced," according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Three years ago, the City of Denver launched it’s marijuana social equity program — aimed at helping residents with previous marijuana convictions or those who were disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs launch their own cannabis businesses.

Michael Diaz-Rivera is the owner of one of those businesses — Better Days Delivery — a cannabis delivery service.

"At the age of 19, I was selling cannabis as a way of survival. I got a felony for weed possession," Diaz-Rivera explained. "What history has shown us is that the marginalized communities were affected the hardest by the war on drugs... Specifically, Black and brown communities and poor communities were the ones that got saddled with the weed charges. But when it came time to make it a legal industry, we weren't the ones that were at the table to start our businesses.”

For Diaz-Rivera, the potential reclassification of cannabis is bittersweet.

"On one side, it makes our businesses more legitimate. This will allow us to research the plant in ways that we haven't been able to in the past," Diaz-Rivera said. "On the other side, I see our communities once again being left behind... Part of the problem is that they're only looking at the profit of it. They're not looking at the plant from the health equity perspective and to see how we can heal our communities on multiple levels.”

Ultimately, Diaz-Rivera hopes the reclassification is a step toward federal legalization of marijuana.

Beatrice Carranza is the CEO and Founder of Bachaz, another cannabis company started through Denver's social equity program. Her edibles will soon be available for Colorado consumers. Carranza said they will have the first bilingual packaging in the state.

"It's really great news to know, that's something that we've been waiting for," Carranza said about the proposal to reclassify marijuana.

Carranza and her husband were arrested when they were younger for growing marijuana plants.

“Just for something small, it follows you through life," Carranza said.

Now that marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, she feels the stigma has slowly started to fade. The reclassification would further that feeling on a nationwide scale.

“My mom could go ahead and feel more comfortable around it and being able to consume it if she has a headache or wants to go to sleep, she could go ahead and take whatever gummies right," Carranza said. “Knowing that it's not that drug it was before, that her mom told her was really bad. And now, seeing that we're doing this change [reclassification]. She's actually going to be willing to try this and then that's how we're eventually going to remove that stigma from our family.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis released a statement in support of the likely reclassification.

I am thrilled by the Biden Administration’s decision to begin the process of finally rescheduling cannabis, following the lead of Colorado and 37 other states that have already legalized it for medical or adult use, correcting decades of outdated federal policy. This action is good for Colorado businesses and our economy, it will improve public safety, and will support a more just and equitable system for all. We look forward to when Colorado businesses will continue to safely fulfill the consumer demand without facing additional safety challenges and unnecessary financial burden that 280E tax provisions created.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis

In Colorado, criminal convictions for the possession of two ounces or less of marijuana have been pardoned. It's not clear exactly how many people were impacted by the pardons, since one person could have multiple convictions.

State data shows just over 4,000 convictions were pardoned for the possession of less than one or two ounces of marijuana.

Proposal to federally reclassify marijuana met with excitement, questions

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