Illinois Governor Clears Criminal Record for 500,000 Cannabis Offenders

Governor Pritzker has pardoned 9,210 low-level cannabis convictions, while the State Police have erased the arrest record of more than 492,000 non-felony cannabis-related offenders.

The governor of Illinois has officially cleared the criminal record of almost 500,000 individuals who were charged with cannabis-related crimes.

The timing of the announcement has also drawn applause from cannabis law reform advocates, as it has arrived four years ahead of the projected 2025 deadline. 

As we near the end of the first year of Illinois' new legal cannabis industry, I am heartened by the progress we have made towards undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs. Eleven states in the nation have legalized cannabis for recreational use, but no other state has done the important work we're doing here in Illinois, where equity intentionality takes centre stage.Senior Cannabis Policy Advisor, Toi Hutchinson

Under the purview of Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, the Illinois state government previously promised to expunge the record of cannabis arrests made from 2013 to 2019—accounting for almost 47,000 eligible cases—by the first of this year.

However, the state is now considerably ahead of schedule—having already reached 492,129—with automatic expungement scheduled for introduction at some point before 2025.

"State-wide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of colour," Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said.

"We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of the damage in communities of colour, who have disproportionately shouldered this burden. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past — and the decency to set a better path forward."

"I applaud the Prisoner Review Board, the Illinois State Police, and our partners across the state for their extraordinary efforts that allowed these pardons and expungements to become a reality."

Additionally, the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation also recently created an organisation known as New Leaf Illinois—with the help of $1.6 million in funding from the state—which will guide individuals through the process of having cannabis-related convictions erased from their criminal record.

And according to a partner at the Fox Rothschild law firm, Gray Mateo-Harris, up to 700,000 Illinois citizens could be eligible for an expungement.

"A lot of those individuals will not be able to figure out independently whether their convictions are eligible for automatic expungement or whether they have to take additional steps. It is really a complicated legal program, and it truly does require some individualized analysis, Mateo-Harris said in an interview with Illinois Radio Network.

"Generally, we're talking about a minor cannabis offense, and so that has to do again with possession and manufacture/delivery convictions that are not more than 30 grand."

"So again, the easiest thing to do is going to be to go to newleafillinois.org and really let the experts go through the process of identifying if your convictions are actually covered and whether you will need to file a petition."

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Hugo Gray
Hugo Gray

Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.