OPINION: U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering is setback to cannabis law reform hopes in Wisconsin

Posted: June 27, 2019 by Gary Storck
Category: Politics

The U.S. Supreme Court's (SCOTUS) 5-4 ruling today in two cases that the court has no role in overseeing gerrymandering in states is a big setback to hopes of passing legislation regulating cannabis in Wisconsin. Wisconsin's current legislative maps were drawn after the 2010 census by law firms hired by majority Republicans to create the strongest majorities possible. Currently, Republicans control the assembly by a 63-36 margin and the senate by a 19-14 margin.

There had been anticipation that a Wisconsin redistricting case before the SCOTUS would result in a favorable decision that would allow new electoral maps that did not favor either Republicans or Democrats to be drawn. With the Supremes opting out, those favoring fairly drawn districts in Wisconsin find themselves with few options, if any. With the Wisconsin Supreme Court (SCOW), supposedly a non-partisan body, now firmly in the hands of conservatives, the chances of any court case favoring non-partisan redistricting winning the state court is extremely unlikely. Such challenges might initially prevail at the county level and perhaps even at the appeals court level only to be struck down by the SCOW.

The best hope of getting fair maps is for Democrats to take back the Wisconsin state senate in 2020. They would need to pick up 3 seats to do so. There are 16 seats up for election, 8 GOP, 8 Democratic. However, the nature of the districts due to gerrymandering makes a pickup by Democrats of 3 seats a long shot. Looking at the seats up in 2020, it seems the most likely outcome is the same 8/8 split after the 2020 election. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_State_Senate But, a lot can happen between now and Nov. 2020 that could make the results less predictable.

So unless a path to fair election maps can be found, any cannabis legislation would need to be approved by Republican majorities. While there are bipartisan medical cannabis bills in the works this session, they would need to meet the approval of Republicans traditionally hostile to the issue, translating to more strictly written legislation that makes medical cannabis more expensive and less accessible by patients and less profitable for businesses providing it. The idea of allowing home cultivation for medical cannabis patients, as was recently included in the Illinois legalization measure just signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, would probably receive a chilly reception here. Legislation regulating adult use as Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) would likely continue to be a non-starter if the GOP majority continues, barring a huge change of heart or change of faces.