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The 2021 Guide to DEA Schedules and Cannabis

Published June 25, 2021
DEA drug schedules cannabis and others


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You may think you know everything about cannabis and the DEA.

However, did you know that Delta-9, the THC closely associated with marijuana, is legal in some instances on a federal level?

We’re not even talking about medicinal use.

So in this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about cannabis and DEA scheduling.

Plus, we’ll show you how Delta-9, not just Delta-8, but Delta-9 is legal in some instances - even in restrictive states.

We’re going to cover:

Let’s go.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970

1970s DEA Car

Before we talk about the DEA, we need to begin with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

It wasn’t the first time there was a federal attack on cannabis.There was the infamous Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

However, to many, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, signed by President Nixon, was the beginning of the modern era of the “War on Drugs.”

In fact, the term “War on Drugs” was first popularized by Nixon just about a month after the Controlled Substances Act went into effect.

So what did the Controlled Substances Act do?

Overall, it’s a statute (a law that applies to a whole state or country) that established U.S. policy on drug:

  • Manufacturing
  • Importation
  • Possession
  • Use
  • Distribution if it is regulated

We’re going to cover the schedules of drugs later, but it’s essential to know that not all the drugs on the schedules are illegal in every instance. Xanax, which gets prescribed by doctors, is a Schedule IV drug, for example.

The Controlled Substances Act consists of two main chapters.

Subchapter I

Subchapter I of the Controlled Substances Act lays out the different schedules of drugs from I-V. It also lists the chemicals used to make drugs and the differences between lawful and unlawful manufacturing.

Subchapter II

Subchapter II defines the laws for the exportation and importation of drugs. It also states the fines and prison terms for any violations.

Overall, simple stuff for the most part. Now, let’s get into the DEA.

What is the DEA?

Drug Enforcement Agency with glasses and notepad

“DEA” stands for Drug Enforcement Administration. It’s a federal agency that works under the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

The DEA was established through Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973. The goal of the plan was to merge:

  • The Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD)
  • The Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE)
  • 600 Agents of the Bureau of Customs
  • Customs Agency Service
  • Other federal offices

The primary task of the DEA is to enforce federal laws, mainly the Controlled Substance Act. In addition, their job is to coordinate and pursue drug investigations, both domestically and abroad.

Sometimes the DEA’s jurisdictions will overlap with other federal agencies and departments. They have concurrent jurisdictions with:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • United Started Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

The official mission statement of the DEA is:

“The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those organizations and principal members of organizations, involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States; and to recommend and support non-enforcement programs aimed at reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets.”

In many instances, the DEA has had a complicated relationship with states that have legalized marijuana.

How complicated?

That could be an entire blog post itself. But they have cracked down on medicinal marijana dispensaries in the past.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was introduced in 2001, prohibited the DOJ from spending funds for actions that would interfere with state medical marijuana laws.

It didn’t become a law until 2014. However, even then, the DOJ interpreted the law as offering state officials protection and not private individuals or businesses.

Overall, the thing to know about the DEA’s relationship with legal cannabis is that it’s very “shaky,” and we’ll leave it at that.

DEA Drug Schedules

DEA Scheduled Substances

What is a DEA drug schedule?

Many drugs, but not all drugs (alcohol and nicotine are nowhere on the schedule), are put on a scale or “schedule” from one to five.

Their rankings are determined by the federal government’s perception of:

  • The potential for abuse
  • Accepted medicinal use
  • Safety and potential for addiction

We’re now going to list Schedules I-V along with some of the drugs on this list.

However, we’re also going to make this fun. We’re going to leave marijuana off the list and let you guess where it falls in these schedules.

In the next section we will reveal where marijuana, which is legal in several states for medicinal and recreational purposes, lands in these rankings.

There are only five choices, can you guess correctly?

Let the game begin.

And one more thing. These rankings are just how they are laid out by the federal government. We are in no way making any medical claims about the substances below. It’s just what the law states.

Schedule I

Potential for Abuse: High

Accepted Medical Use: None

Potential for Addiction: These drugs are not safe, even under medical supervision

Schedule I Drugs:

  • Heroin
  • Ecstasy
  • Methaqualone
  • LSD
  • Peyote

Schedule II

Potential for Abuse: High

Accepted Medical Use: Only in certain circumstances with many restrictions

Potential for Addiction: Abusing these drugs can cause addiction

Schedule II Drugs:

  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Vicodin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • Adderall
  • Ritalin

Schedule III

Potential for Abuse: Medium

Accepted Medical Use: Yes

Potential for Addiction: If the drug is abused, it can lead to addiction

Schedule III Drugs:

  • Ketamine
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Testosterone
  • Tylenol with codeine

Schedule IV

Potential for Abuse: Moderate

Accepted Medical Use: Yes

Potential for Addiction: Abusing these drugs may lead to moderate mental or physical addiction

Schedule IV Drugs:

  • Xanax
  • Ambien
  • Alium
  • Tramadol
  • Soma
  • Darvon

Schedule V

Potential for Abuse: Low

Accepted Medical Use: Yes

Potential for Addiction: Abusing these drugs may lead to mild mental or physical addiction

Schedule V Drugs:

  • Robitussin AC
  • Lomotil
  • Motofen
  • Lyrica
  • Parepectolin

What Drug Schedule is Marijuana?

Marijuana Crop

And now for the big reveal.

The DEA’s drug schedules cover everything from heroin to cough syrup, so where does marijuana fall on this list?

Marijuana, as defined as cannabis containing a Delta-9 THC content greater than 0.3% on a dry weight basis, is…a Schedule I drug.

You read that correctly.

As of June 25, 2021, the federal government places marijuana on the same level as heroin.

Let’s go over the criteria for Schedule I again.

According to Uncle Sam, marijuana is considered to have a high potential for abuse, no medicinal uses, and it’s not even safe under medical supervision...unlike, you know, meth.

And again, to reiterate, this is how it ranks federally in 2021.

Is Hemp a Scheduled Drug?


It was a Schedule I drug up until the 2018 Farm Bill.

We hate to be brief, but we will go deeper into the federal definition of hemp vs. marijuana in our next section.

Is Delta-9 THC a Scheduled Drug?

Delta 9 THC Concentrated

Now, this is an interesting topic.

It would make sense for Delta-9 THC, the primary cannabinoid of marijuana, to be on the list of scheduled drugs.

Wouldn’t it?

Well here’s the rundown.

Delta-9 THC is not always federally illegal

That’s right, and we’re not talking about anything in regards to medicinal or recreational marijuana either.

Let’s break this down.

First, we’ll take a peek into the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Title 21 Code of Regulations:

(a) Schedule I shall consist of the drugs and other substances, by whatever official name, common or usual name, chemical name, or brand name designated, listed in this section. Each drug or substance has been assigned the DEA Controlled Substances Code Number set forth opposite it...

(31) Tetrahydrocannabinols

(i) Meaning tetrahydrocannabinols, except as in paragraph (d)(31)(ii) of this section, naturally contained in a plant of the genus Cannabis (cannabis plant), as well as synthetic equivalents of the substances contained in the cannabis plant, or in the resinous extractives of such plant, and/or synthetic substances, derivatives, and their isomers with similar chemical structure and pharmacological activity to those substances contained in the plant, such as the following:

1 cis or trans tetrahydrocannabinol, and their optical isomers

6 cis or trans tetrahydrocannabinol, and their optical isomers

3, 4 cis or trans tetrahydrocannabinol, and its optical isomers

(Since nomenclature of these substances is not internationally standardized, compounds of these structures, regardless of numerical designation of atomic positions covered.)

(ii) Tetrahydrocannabinols does not include any material, compound, mixture, or preparation that falls within the definition of hemp set forth in 7 USC 1639o.

Now there are lots of mentions of tetrahydrocannabinols in this section, but the critical area is the last part:

(ii) Tetrahydrocannabinols does not include any material, compound, mixture, or preparation that falls within the definition of hemp set forth in 7 USC 1639o.

So what is the definition of hemp?

Under U.S. Code (7 US Code § 1639o - Definitions), you can find the definition for hemp:

The term “hemp” means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.

It’s a lot to follow, but here’s what these two sections mean:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinols are controlled substances unless they fall within the definition of hemp.
  • Hemp is a cannabis plant, any part of that plant, derivatives, extracts, isomers, and cannabinoids with a delta-9 THC concentration at no more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis

“So hemp contains Delta-9?”

Yes, in small amounts!

“And, if a Delta-9 product contains Delta-9 from hemp at a concentration no more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis, it’s federally legal?”

Correct again!

State laws may vary on cannabinoids extracted from hemp, but it all checks out with Uncle Sam.

Now, let’s get into Delta-8 and CBD.

Is Delta-8 a Scheduled Drug?

Hemp Laws and Delta-8 THC

Like Delta-9, it depends on how it’s sourced.

Delta-8 appears in hemp and marijuana in low amounts. If you were to extract Delta-8 from marijuana, then you’d be getting into hot water.

However, when you get it from hemp, you’re in the clear. Under federal law, it is legal to have a product that contains Delta-8 THC and Delta-9 just as long as the D9 content doesn’t pass that 0.3% threshold.

And it gets better.

The hemp and marijuana differentiation only has to do with Delta-9 THC.

So, for instance, under federal law, you can legally own an entire gallon of Delta-8 THC so long as it’s extracted from hemp.

There might not be any practical reason for having such a quantity. Your friends and family may refrain from asking you for advice on personal finance matters in the future.

However, it's legal under U.S. federal law.

You would just need to check to see if Delta-8 is legal in your state.

To answer the question, no. Delta-8 sourced from hemp is not a scheduled drug.

Is CBD a Scheduled Drug?

You may be spotting a pattern in this blog post.

In general, cannabinoids extracted from hemp are federally legal. It’s only the concentration of Delta-9 that matters.

CBD that is extracted from hemp is not a scheduled drug. However, like Delta-8, it is best to check in with your state laws to determine if it’s legal.

Again, the answer is no as long as it’s extracted from hemp.

Proposed Changes to Cannabis Scheduling

Hemp Scheduling and Changes

The 2018 Farm Bill is one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the context of cannabis legality in the U.S. It was the first time in U.S. history in which a form of cannabis was descheduled.

So, where does this leave marijuana?

Having marijuana as a Schedule I drug is quite confusing. People have been trying to remove marijuana from the Schedule I category since 1972.

There have been attempts to remove marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II in recent years. However, the most that this will do will relieve some of the bureaucratic restrictions associated with medicinal marijuana.


As of the publication of this writing, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug. Hemp was descheduled back in 2018.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is where drug schedules began. It’s the DEA’s job to enforce federal laws related to this act.

There are five schedules of drugs. It is reserved for those with the highest risk for abuse, addiction, and no medical use.

Delta-9 THC, the most prominent cannabinoid in marijuana, is legal in some instances under federal law. As long as it was extracted from hemp and didn’t cross the 0.3% threshold, it's fine by the federal government.

Delta-8 and CBD are treated similarly to Delta-9. However, in these instances, there is no limit to the concentration per dry weight. That only applies to Delta-9.

There have been attempts to lower the scheduling status of marijuana since 1972, and it has continued in recent years.


Is there anything that we forgot to cover?

Let us know!

“Do Hometown Hero products contain Delta-9 THC?”

“What is the difference between Delta-8 and Delta-9?”

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