Wisconsin Statute 9.20 covers direct legislation in Wisconsin. To sum it up, although Wisconsin doesn’t allow ballot measures state-wide like Colorado or Oregon, we can petition and vote for ordinances at the municipal (city or village) level.

For a petition to force a vote, the number of valid signatures must be greater than or equal to 15% of the votes cast in that municipality in the previous governor’s election. And you must collect that many signatures within 60 days (basically, whenever you turn the signatures into the city/village, only signatures from the previous 60 days will count as valid). To make this easier I made a Google Docs spreadsheet that calculates how many signatures are needed in each municipality. Click here for that.

If you are serious about starting an initiative in your municipality, first make sure you actually live in a city or village, and not a town or unincorporated area. Only cities and towns are allowed direct legislation. Next ask what you think has a chance of passing in your municipality. If marijuana legalization isn’t likely to win, consider legalizing possession of medical marijuana instead. It doesn’t make sense to spend time on a measure unless you think it can win, and losing at the polls would look bad for our momentum, so take some time to seriously consider the possibilities.

If you think you have a winning initiative plan, see if you can organize a few people to collect signatures. Wisconsin NORML can help connect you with other activists in your area, but we can’t promise any help with collecting signatures, so find a good team. I recommend asking around on the Wisconsin NORML Facebook group (not the page) if there are people in your area interested in helping. You don’t have to living in the municipality of the petition to collect signatures, so anyone can help.

If you do want to organize a petition and are willing to take the time to see it through, you should email me at if you have any questions or need assistance in preparing or planning your petition drive. Please also let me know before you start on any petition drive so I can double check that everything is in line, spread awareness of the drive, and see what kind of assistance we can offer. The rest of this page is mostly copied from our information about the Milwaukee legalization initiative, which should answer a lot of your questions.

Who can sign/What’s a valid signature?

For a signature to be valid the signer (Make sure the signer meets these criteria *before* signing, please):


  • Must be at least 18 years of age
  • Must live in the municipality (City or Village) for which the ordinance is written (no suburbs)
  • Must have signed within 60 days prior to the submission of the petition
  • Must *not* be currently serving a felony sentence (jail/prison/probation/parole); felons who are *no longer* on probation/parole *can* sign
  • Must not have already signed (Duplicate signatures are thrown out, but the original still counts. So all signing multiple times hurts is our estimate of how many signatures we have)


Who can collect signatures?

To collect signatures (“circulate the petition” in legal terms) the circulator:


  • Must be at least 18 years of age
  • Must be a US citizen
  • Must *not* be currently serving a felony sentence (jail/prison/probation/parole); felons who are *no longer* on probation/parole *can* collect signatures.

Basically, the rules are the same for circulating petitions and signing them, except that signers need to live in the given municipality whereas circulators/collectors can be any US citizen.


Where can signatures be collected?

Signatures can be collected on any public property (sidewalks, parks) and any private property *with the consent of the property owner*. Collecting signatures on sidewalks outside of music and sporting venues and at public events at public parks is allowed and encouraged, but don’t try to collect the signatures inside the venues or in their parking lots as you may be asked to leave or get in trouble.


You are also legally allowed to go door-to-door to collect signatures.


Petition forms and ordinance text

Here is the petition form we used for the Milwaukee legalization initiative in PDF format. If you want to print your own to collect signatures, ***PRINT THE ORDINANCE ON THE BACK OF THE PETITION FORM*** because the statute requires that the ordinance be attached to the petition. You can staple them as well, but printing front and back is simpler and less paper.

Petition Form

You will need to make the ordinance specific to your municipality, so contact us for help with that, but it will likely look similar to this.

Ordinance Text:

Possession of marijuana

(a) Possession of marijuana. No person may possess marijuana unless the marijuana was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his or her professional practice or except as authorized by ch. 961, Wis. Stats.

(b) Penalty. The penalty for violation of this section is no more than $1.