As required by Illinois legislation that went into effect in 2019, the state’s governor issued pardons on low-level convictions and nearly 500,000 non-felony arrest records for cannabis-related crimes on Dec. 31, 2020.
The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act ordered at least 47,000 marijuana-related arrest records from 2013-2019 be expunged by Jan. 1, 2021. Additionally, the state has pardoned over 20,000 convictions under the same law.
Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office announced 9,219 low-level marijuana conviction records were expunged by the Illinois State Police (ISP) on New Year’s Eve 2020. Moreover, the 492,192 cannabis arrest records wiped out means the ISP has completed the statutory deadline ahead of its deadline of Jan. 1, 2025.
In addition to the state level expungements, DuPage, Kane, Knox, McHenry, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Will, and Winnebago counties have completed their local level requirements; the other 192 counties continue the process.
Senior cannabis control advisor to Gov. Pritzker, Toi Hutchinson, expressed pride in the progress the state has “made towards undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs.” She added:
We are one year into what will be an ongoing effort to correct historic wrongdoings. The administration remains committed to working with legislators to address any challenges to equity and on building an industry that re-invests in our state’s communities.
Hutchinson further boasted that none of the other 11 states that have legalized recreational cannabis had taken steps to remove low-level and non-violent marijuana arrest records.
While this is true, she misstated how many states currently allow adult usage for recreational purposes. As of Nov. 5, 2020, there are 16 states with legal marijuana for adults. Illinois has a greater commitment to erasing the harmful records of the state’s previous offenders.
Other states with record-clearing cannabis laws include California, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, and Oregon. Legislators have introduced similar acts to be addressed in this year’s sessions in Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania.
In 2012, when Colorado first legalized marijuana, the state’s lawmakers passed a bill requiring “courts, upon petition, to seal the records of misdemeanor cannabis possession or use offenses that would not have been crimes committed,” explains Michael Hartman, a research analyst for the National Conference of State Legislators’ Criminal Justice System.
On Dec. 3, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (MORE Act of 2019) — 228 to 164. This is the first time either chamber of Congress addressed decriminalizing cannabis. The bill was forwarded to the Senate but has not garnered any movement as yet.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made cannabis usage and sales illegal — later overturned due to its lack of constitutionality. Former-president Richard M. Nixon coined the term War on Drugs in 1971. It was replaced with the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s, which increased the Federal government’s pursuit of marijuana-related drug offenses.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
HuffPost: Illinois Expunges Nearly 500,000 Cannabis Arrest Records; by Ryan Grenoble
Chicago Sun-Times: Pritzker marks New Year’s Eve by expunging nearly half a million marijuana arrest records, pardoning thousands more; by Manny Ramos
NCSL: States Move to Clear Records of People With Previous Pot Convictions; by Michael Hartman
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Cannabis Urlaub’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Willpower Studios’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License