A day before Illinois is set to lift the prohibition on recreational marijuana, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday granted pardons for 11,017 low-level pot offenses from 92 counties statewide.
Flanked by allies and fellow Democratic leaders, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Pritzker announced the wide-reaching effort during a news conference at the Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side.
“Over the past 50 years, the war on cannabis has destroyed families. It has filled jails and prisons with nonviolent offenders. It has disproportionately affected black and brown communities” Pritzker said.
“We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of the damage that has been done,” he added. “But today, here in Illinois, we can govern with the courage to right the wrongs of the past.”
Officials estimate 800,000 records could be cleared as part of the legalization law. Those who have been arrested or convicted of a nonviolent misdemeanor or Class 4 felony involving 30 grams of cannabis or less — which is the same amount that will soon be legal to possess — can qualify for expungement.
Illinoisans who have been arrested but not convicted will have their records automatically expunged by the Illinois State Police. However, the more complicated process for expunging convictions includes multiple state agencies and requires the governor to approve any pardons.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul will now file petitions to expunge the offenses pardoned by Pritzker, which must then be approved by a judge. After that, state police and local law enforcement can expunge the records.
The first round of automatic expungements, which includes records dating back to 2013, will be cleared by January 1, 2021. Records from as far back as 2000 will then be expunged by 2023, and offenses from before 2000 will be cleared by 2025.
For Prtizker, Tuesday’s action begins the process of making good on a core campaign promise to center the legalization push around criminal and social justice issues.
“We’re addressing the past harms of discriminatory prosecution of drug laws. We’re restoring the rights of Illinoisans who were denied jobs and housing and child custody and financial aid for school and social services and professional licensing,” Pritzker told a crowd that included Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Michael Pfleger.
At a news conference in January 2018, Pritzker vowed to address “historically systemic racism” by creating provisions to bolster minority owner and participation in the cannabis industry. The law will give those with minor weed offenses on their records a leg up in the application process, along with individuals who live in areas that have been hit hardest by drug war-era enforcement policies.
While Illinois will become the 11th state to fully legalize marijuana, it’s the only one that has included provisions to bolster social equity and address past convictions.
“We have taken something that was once illegal and now is legal. In history and times past, that’s not unusual,” said Foxx. “The going back and repairing the harm has never happened before.”
Foxx has launched her own program for expunging pot records in the county, with the help of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Code For America. During a December court hearing, during which Pritzker sat in the gallery, Foxx called for the vacation and expungement of over 1,000 low-level, nonviolent convictions for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis.
Toi Hutchinson, Pritzker’s adviser on cannabis, said Foxx kicking off that process was the start of “a new day in Illinois.”
“Tomorrow marks the end of prohibition in the state of Illinois. And we did that,” said Hutchinson, a former state senator who co-sponsored the legalization law. “But it’s just the beginning of what legalization will look like.”