Ben & Jerry's is turning its attention to half-baked marijuana legalization this 4/20 – focusing on Michigan where cannabis use is legalized but many are still serving time or have long-standing records for cannabis-related convictions. As legalization has swept across the nation, those convicted and incarcerated for cannabis possession are glaringly overlooked and continue to suffer from the long-term impacts of the war on drugs.
The Vermont ice cream maker is calling for clemency, which governors can bestow to either reduce a sentence or free an incarcerated person. Last year, governors in states like Oregon and Pennsylvania granted marijuana pardons and commutations, but there remains great opportunity for cannabis clemency in many states. For example, in 2021, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation that streamlined removal of cannabis and other misdemeanors from public record but excludes felony convictions for sentences of 10 or more years. The 'Clean Slate' Bill allowed Whitmer to grant clemency to Michael Thompson, who served 25 years for cannabis conviction – the longest sentence for a nonviolent drug charge in the history of the state. While this was an important step in the right direction, more can and should be done to ensure that all people still incarcerated for cannabis crimes are released.
Now is the time to address the racial inequities in cannabis criminalization by calling on Whitmer and all governors to grant widespread clemency for those still incarcerated for cannabis crimes. Clemency at an individual level is an expensive, slow-moving process requiring herculean efforts to cut through red tape whereas a governor can untangle the complicated system with the power of commutation. There are still 250,000 Michiganders burdened by cannabis convictions and Black people are more than 3.6x likely to be arrested for possession than white people.
To advance this work, Ben & Jerry's launched a campaign to address the issue and ask their fans and citizens alike to contact governor Whitmer to urge her to grant clemency to the thousands of incarcerated and right the wrongs of injustice. The company's campaign has placed billboards adjacent to the Michigan state house in Lansing and mobile billboards across Ann Arbor and Lansing and is part of a larger national campaign calling for clemency in every state.