With the make-up of Congress still taking shape after the midterms, perhaps the last thing anyone expected was any kind of bipartisanship. Yet despite a contentious campaign where rising crime featured prominently in attack ads, the first order of business in both the House and the Senate was a provocative move on marijuana.

In the House, Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin and Republican congresswoman Nancy Mace cohosted a hearing on how state cannabis laws have developed and what reforms the federal government might yet undertake.

The hearing was surprisingly friendly, save for an outburst from Texas congressman Pete...

With the make-up of Congress still taking shape after the midterms, perhaps the last thing anyone expected was any kind of bipartisanship. Yet despite a contentious campaign where rising crime featured prominently in attack ads, the first order of business in both the House and the Senate was a provocative move on marijuana.

In the House, Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin and Republican congresswoman Nancy Mace cohosted a hearing on how state cannabis laws have developed and what reforms the federal government might yet undertake.

The hearing was surprisingly friendly, save for an outburst from Texas congressman Pete Sessions who in a rambling monologue compared legalizing pot to profiting from slavery. Everyone else, however, engaged thoughtfully with witnesses, who included industry and consumer advocates, former law enforcement officers, public defenders, veterans, and the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, which recently legalized cannabis.

On the whole, most agreed that enforcing a prohibition on pot creates more problems than it solves.

It was a sign of just how dramatically the mood in America has changed. As some of the witnesses pointed out, a majority of Americans now live in a state where cannabis has been legalized with minimal effect on public safety. The states that have chosen to legalize enjoy increased tax revenues that fund local schools, second chance programs, and municipalities.

Yet in spite of these successes, federal prohibition means that what the states are doing is still technically illegal. In fact, the only reason the Department of Justice has not fully cracked down is because Congress has defunded cannabis enforcement through the appropriations process.

This means that companies that participate in regulated state markets cannot take normal tax deductions or scale their businesses in interstate commerce. Federal financial regulations also prevent cannabis businesses from accessing traditional financial services like banking and insurance. Veterans also face challenges. They might live in a state where cannabis is available as an alternative painkiller, but they can’t consume it without risking the loss of their veterans benefits and security clearances.

Back in Congress, the Senate recently held a vote on a bill sponsored by Republican senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic senators Brian Schatz and Dianne Feinstein, called the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act. It passed by voice vote. A research bill that’s unfortunately more of a win for pharmaceutical corporations than consumers (it offers new protections for drug applications for companies that conduct cannabis research), it’s still the first time the Senate has ever voted yes to any kind of marijuana liberalization.

More important than the substance of the bill is the statement it made: Congress is finally making some meaningful steps in the right direction on marijuana. Republicans and Democrats have now introduced bills to legalize cannabis, including one by Schumer himself, called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Raskin and Mace for their parts agreed to continue their partnership on this issue, regardless of which party holds the majority in Congress. All this follows on President Biden’s announcement last month that he was granting pardons for federal cannabis violations and directing his administration to review the status of cannabis on the Schedule of Controlled Substances.

Who would have thought the lame duck session would bring about consensus on anything? Let alone marijuana?

The fact is that marijuana legalization currently polls stronger than either Democrats or Republicans (to say nothing of President Joe Biden). Seventy percent of Americans are in favor of ending cannabis prohibition. In the 2022 midterms, Missouri and Maryland voted to legalize the plant, putting further pressure on the federal government to act.

Of course, in a House controlled by Republicans, cannabis reform will face an uphill battle. But the thin margin for control opens up new parliamentary possibilities for those willing to work across the aisle. Could a coalition of bipartisan reformers gather the strength to control the floor? The Senate will also require some work, as no Republicans have yet endorsed reconciling state and federal marijuana laws.

Yet the bipartisan vote this week defied precedent. Apparently weed is the issue on which a divided government can come together. Somewhere, aging hippies are having the last laugh.