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Stress-induced drug use during pandemic is reason to de-criminalize harder drugs: Foxx

“Especially in this last year with COVID — overdose deaths were at a high. Those people weren’t criminals. They were people who were suffering,” Foxx told the Sun-Times.

A discarded hypodermic needle.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has said she will advocate expunging convictions for possession of harder drugs — as long as it’s part of a larger, progressive approach to handling addiction.
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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Thursday pointed to stress-induced drug abuse during the pandemic as the impetus to get moving on her plan to wipe clean the record of convicted marijuana dealers and expunge offenses for heroin and cocaine possession.

“Especially in this last year with COVID — overdose deaths were at a high. Those people weren’t criminals. They were people who were suffering. Whether that was cocaine or heroin or Fentanyl or prescription drugs, I’m not making value judgements on which person used what type of drug to say that’s a disorder,” Foxx told the Sun-Times.

“We have an issue here of people who are dying of drug overdoses, people who are suffering with addiction and don’t have the resources to treat it. And we should go as far and as wide as we can to make sure that peoples’ needs are met so we can stop losing so many people to substance use disorder.”

Shortly after her re-election, Foxx outlined a bold vision for drug enforcement that is certain to stir controversy.

She framed cannabis legalization as a “test balloon” for reexamining the country’s drug laws and the toll those laws have taken on minority communities.

Foxx called Illinois’ groundbreaking decision to legalize marijuana a “gateway conversation to deeper conversations around treating addiction as a public health issue and looking at the drug economy that has flourished in these neighborhoods while every other bit of economy has abandoned” those communities.

At the time, her office had already automatically expunged about 2,200 low-level pot convictions for possession of 30 grams or less, the amount of weed that’s now legal to have.

But Foxx said then she ultimately wants to use her office’s existing infrastructure to pinpoint cases to similarly wipe out more serious offenses for selling cannabis, which she acknowledged typically involves more than 30 grams, before moving on to harder drugs.

Currently, possession of 15 grams or less of heroin or cocaine can result in a felony conviction that typically can’t be expunged from criminal records.

Asked then whether she would advocate expunging convictions for possession of those harder drugs, Foxx answered “yes” — as long as it’s part of a larger, progressive approach to handling addiction.

On Thursday, the state’s attorney doubled down on that commitment.

“Substance use disorder is an addiction. It’s a public health crisis. There’s not been a leader in the public health space who has said otherwise. And yet, we used the criminal justice system to criminalize people who have addition issues,” Foxx said.

“These are conversations that are ongoing that we’re having with state legislature members, the governor’s office and otherwise to see what does it mean to meaningfully and adequately resource treatment as opposed to incarceration. It is a bold vision and one that we hope to have in place in the near-term.”