The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it had recommended easing restrictions on marijuana in what could amount to a major change in federal policy.

Even though the move, which kicks off a lengthy rule-making process, does not end the criminalization of the drug, it is a significant shift in how the government views the safety and use of marijuana for medical purposes. It also reflects the Biden administration’s effort to liberalize marijuana policy in a way that puts it more in line with the public as increasingly more Americans favor legalizing the drug.

The decision comes at an opportune time for President Biden, who is trailing the presumptive Republican nominee, former President Donald J. Trump, as they approach the November election, according to a recent CNN poll.

It could also lead to the softening of other laws and regulations that account for the use or possession of cannabis, including sentencing guidelines, banking and access to public housing.

People familiar with the recommendation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland planned to tell the White House Office of Management and Budget that the government should change the drug’s categorization. After the office assesses the recommendation, it will still face a long road before taking effect, including being subject to public comment.

The Associated Press earlier reported the Justice Department decision.

For more than half a century, marijuana has been considered a Schedule I drug, classified on the same level as highly addictive substances like heroin that the Drug Enforcement Administration describes as having no currently accepted medical use. Moving marijuana to Schedule III, as the Department of Health and Human Services recommended in August, would put it alongside less addictive substances like Tylenol with codeine, ketamine and testosterone, meaning that it would be subject to fewer restrictions on production and research, and that eventually it could be prescribed by a doctor.

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