By now, most of us realize just how much of an outlier Wisconsin is when it comes to cannabis legalization. Many of our neighboring states – Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan – have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. At the same time, Wisconsin remains just one of 12 states that continue to ban it even for medicinal purposes.

It is also well-known how much this antiquated approach is costing us. Illinois collected $36.1 million in tax revenue from Wisconsin residents purchasing cannabis products in 2022. Meanwhile, estimates suggest that legalizing cannabis in Wisconsin could bring in upwards of $150 million in tax revenue for the state.

What often gets overlooked in calls for legalization is the need to grant clemency to people who have a criminal record because of a weed-related conviction. In 2022, more than 13,100 Wisconsinites were arrested for a cannabis offense, the vast majority of which were for simple possession – down from over 19,200 cannabis arrests in 2018. That means tens of thousands of people – disproportionately poor people of color – are thrown into our criminal legal system simply for possessing marijuana.

Even if a person is lucky enough to end up with only a low-level charge like a misdemeanor, the consequences of having any kind of criminal history – or even just being charged with a crime – can be catastrophic and life-altering.

Coming into contact with the criminal legal system can cost you your job and housing, destabilize the lives of your family or those who depend on you, and cause lifelong trauma. A conviction can do even more collateral damage: It can bar you from renting an apartment, going to school, landing a job, and deprive you of accessing public assistance programs. Entering the legal system for any reason – even for something as innocuous as cannabis possession – has very real and serious ramifications.

Fortunately, there’s something we can do about it. Governor Tony Evers can grant clemency for cannabis convictions under Wisconsin law, and the state legislature can pass the bipartisan expungement bill so people with drug convictions can genuinely earn a second chance. By harnessing clemency for the countless people in our state impacted by historically discriminatory and harsh marijuana policies of the past – the governor has the power to correct racial disparities and alleviate systemic injustice in our criminal legal system. As someone who has promised to make criminal legal system reform and cannabis legalization a priority while in office, Gov. Evers has the chance to begin to make good on that commitment. The legislature must send a bill legalizing weed to his desk during the 2025-26 legislative session, beginning in January 2025.

Former Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker provided categorical pardons for people with convictions for marijuana possession – an action that will deliver redemption for countless people and their families and begin to right the wrongs of the failed War on Drugs. We call on Evers to do the same.

A criminal record carries implications that last a lifetime. A person with a conviction will face material barriers that prevent them from moving forward and reaching their full potential. 

The path to justice is through our equity, care, and humanity values – not vengeance or criminalization. It’s past time that we legalize cannabis – and it’s also past time that the people most affected by its criminalization get the justice they deserve. Granting clemency is a necessary step on our path toward legalization, and it must be at the core of the movement to legalize cannabis.

Sign our petition calling on the Wisconsin State Legislature to vote to legalize cannabis and listen to the vast majority of Wisconsinites who know it’s past time for a change.