Pritzker marks New Year’s Eve by expunging nearly half a million marijuana arrest records, pardoning thousands more

The process to expunge the records have been completed at the state level but are still being processed by county clerks.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Thompson Center in March.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Thousands of pardons have been issued for low-level cannabis convictions and nearly half a million non-felony cannabis-related arrest records have been expunged, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday.

Pritzker’s office said the governor had issued pardons for 9,129 low-level cannabis conviction records; the arrest records have been expunged by the Illinois State Police.

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“Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” Pritzker said in a statement. “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past — and the decency to set a better path forward.”

The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which Pritzker signed on May 31, 2019, mandates that 47,000 cannabis-related arrest records between 2013 and 2019 be expunged by Jan. 1, 2021, which is Friday.

Over 20,000 cannabis convictions have also been pardoned under that law.

The expungement of all 492,192 cannabis arrest records on New Year’s Eve means ISP has completed its automatic expungement process four years early; its statutory deadline is Jan. 1, 2025.

Expungement has been completed at the state level, but the process continues in most of the state’s 102 counties. Only DuPage, Kane, Knox, McHenry, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Will and Winnebago counties have completed expungements at the local level.

The remaining counties have until Jan. 1, 2025, to complete expungement of their non-felony cannabis related arrest records.

“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,” Toi Hutchinson, senior advisor to the governor for cannabis control, said in a statement.

“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 added that none of the other 11 states that have legalized recreational cannabis have taken the step Illinois has taken, by removing low-level and non-violent cannabis-related arrest records.

State Sen. Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, applauded the expungement and pardons, but said it was only a small step forward.

“Dismantling decades’ worth of criminal justice atrocities will take years. That’s evidenced by how this country handles cannabis,” Lightford said. “We must never stop chipping away at that painful history. I’m proud of these critical first steps.”

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