This interview originally appeared in Nuggets, the Star Tribune's free weekly email newsletter about legal cannabis in Minnesota. You can subscribe at

President Joe Biden's director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Rahul Gupta, spoke with the Star Tribune over the phone last week about the official start of the federal rescheduling process that will reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug. The conversation was lightly edited.

What's the main takeaway from the federal agencies recommending this rescheduling?

We've had a policy for over half a century where so many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. We've had so many people arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated. We know white, Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, but Black and brown incarceration rates are higher.

In late 2022, the president directed the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct an independent review to look at the scheduling, and he has issued several categorical pardons for simple possession and has challenged state governors to do the same.

Now, having the scientific review conducted, Health and Human Services recommended moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III.

This is going to be really important to remove barriers to critical research and perhaps drug development, and it could also lead to more research into the benefits of medical marijuana.

Clearly this decision is going to have a historic and long-lasting impact.

I've already written about the tax benefits awaiting state-sanctioned cannabis businesses if this goes through. But I think there's still some uncertainty about federal enforcement – can you offer any clarity about how federal law enforcement will continue or change their prioritization of pot offenses with a move to Schedule III?

It happens that Schedule III drugs are a much, much lower priority in that way – Tylenol with codeine and testosterone are in Schedule III. It will have an impact on racial disparity, incarceration and prosecutions. And whether in Massachusetts or West Virginia or Texas, Americans should be able to get treatment for their condition.

Do you see Schedule III as a green or maybe yellow light for banks and investors and card processors to get involved in state-legal marijuana markets?

We do know the drugs that are Schedule III are in legitimate interstate commerce within the federal system. I'll leave it to others to talk about the commercial process. The focus for the president has been making sure Americans are able to get the help they need no matter where they live, and on the other side making sure we're not [harming] people.

If there's someone new in the White House in January, how easy would it be to pause, cancel or reverse the rescheduling?

The president has given the opportunity to Congress to take action; he did because he could wait no longer. The independent reviews of these agencies followed established processes and procedures in getting to this result. That process is driven through science. I can't provide any hypothetical answers to what may happen. This is a change that is driven by policy, by science, by data, regardless of the political process.

Can we expect any other action from the executive branch on marijuana policy this year?

Rescheduling is a process that will continue to go on for the remainder of the year.

The historic nature of the actions we're taking cannot be minimized. The country's drug policy overall has caused too many lives to be lost and others to be impacted negatively. The president has been very consistent: No one should be in jail for using or possessing marijuana. These steps to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III is a policy that is consistent with science in the 21st century.