Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said she is still on track to begin wiping clean thousands of minor cannabis convictions in the coming months, but acknowledges that her office is still trying to determine how exactly to implement her bold plan.
She also said in an interview with the Sun-Times last week that her office was also taking a look at her office policy toward prosecuting those arrested for the sale of marijuana, but said the review was still in its early stages.
During a January speech to the City Club of Chicago, Foxx first voiced her support for the full legalization of weed and announced that her office would “pursue the expungement of all misdemeanor marijuana convictions.”
The announcement was met with both rousing applause from the clout-heavy City Club attendees as well as fawning support from internet denizens from Chicago and beyond.
But Foxx now faces the daunting task of setting the plan in motion.
Noting the arduous process of cataloguing years of convictions, Foxx told the Sun-Times that her office won’t attempt to expunge them all in one fell swoop. Nevertheless, the state’s attorney’s office hopes to start clearing the first round of convictions in a matter of months, she said.
Foxx said her office is seeking to enlist a nonprofit, Code For America, which has already assisted with expungements in California.
Code for America “can help us find some infrastructure support of being able to look at the [Cook County] clerk’s office, Dorothy Brown’s office, to be able to identify batches of people who are found or convicted of the statutory code for possession of marijuana,” she said.
In February, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office teamed with Code for America to dismiss 8,132 convictions dating back to 1975, according to CNN. The San Francisco-based nonprofit used a computer algorithm to identify cases that were cleared for dismissal after California legalized recreational marijuana in 2016.
Kiera Ellis, a spokeswoman for Foxx, said the state’s attorney’s office and Code for America have yet to sign a formal agreement. Code for America spokeswoman Maria Buczkowski confirmed the nonprofit is in talks with the state’s attorney’s office but declined to comment. Ellis previously said that those with convictions will not have to petition for expungements individually.
Foxx said her office plans to work with Code for America to identify misdemeanor pot cases in Cook County. While she could not yet provide an exact figure, she estimated that thousands of convictions could be wiped out.
“The question is, how far back can we go? How far back does the data go — which will give us what our universe looks like? But we’re in the process of figuring that out,” added Foxx, who said she also intends to work with state officials to determine whether her office can file petitions for expungement on behalf of people with minor pot convictions.
Marny Zimmer, policy director for the state’s attorney’s office, claimed the prospective partnership would “reduce the burden of government,” noting that the county wouldn’t have to pay the nonprofit for its work.
Looking at sales, too
Foxx bemoaned the fact that her office continued to see people arrested on minor drug charges after former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced in 2015 that prosecutors wouldn’t pursue them anymore. In announcing her plan to expunge minor pot possession convictions, Foxx said it was a way to emphasize “we’re not doing this.”
“So hopefully, we’re seeing that fall off,” she said.
In addition, she said her office is looking into how it handles cases involving the sale of cannabis. While the review is still in its preliminary stages, Foxx said she wanted to readdress her office’s policy given the fast movement toward full legalization in Springfield.
“The next iteration of this is looking at those sales,” she said, especially “in light of the fact that legalization looks like it’s becoming apparent. We don’t want to be on the back end of trying to figure out what to do.”
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment on Foxx’s approach to crimes involving marijuana.
“We are going to stay in our lane of law enforcement and defer any comment to the States Attorneys [sic] Office,” Guglielmi told the Sun-Times.
“Our job is to fight crime by enforcing laws, investigating crimes and presenting our evidence-based findings to prosecutors,” he added. “States [sic] Attorneys have their own discretion and diversion policies and we are all accountable to people of Chicago.”
Kevin Graham, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, which represents more than 10,000 rank-and-file Chicago police officers, said the union doesn’t back Foxx’s push to expunge misdemeanor pot convictions.
“Even if the law changes, that does not change the fact that these people knew they were breaking the law, were arrested and convicted once again disregarding the hard work of police officers, who may have been injured while apprehending these offenders,” Graham said in an email to the Sun-Times.
Graham noted that members of the cop union “will only enforce the laws that are on the books.”
“If the laws change that is up to law makers [sic] and the Governor, but it is not up to the Cook County States [sic] Attorney,” he said.
Nevertheless, Foxx will continue to push her reform efforts later this month. On April 20, the unofficial high holiday of weed, she will be the keynote speaker at the Chicago Cannabis Health Fair in South Shore.