The New Year started off better for nearly 500,000 Illinois residents who have had their lives unnecessarily hindered for utilizing cannabis as Governor JB Pritzker announced that 492,129 cannabis-related arrest records have been expunged by the Illinois State Police. This is such welcome news for people that have had to suffer through Reefer Madness-inspired penalties that hurt people’s ability to get a job, find housing, and earn a better education. As more and more states move away from the failed and racist policy of prohibition, it is extremely important that we remember those harmed by the Drug War and do what we can to repair the damage caused by ignorance, bigotry, and greed by special interests that have profited from the War on Drugs.
Illinois’ Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA) has given the state government until 2025 to expunge low-level cannabis arrest and conviction records, but in a somewhat surprising move for government, the Pritzker administration is ahead of schedule. The Governor’s office had this to say in a press release announcing the expungements:
“Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “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. 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.”
The CRTA requires cannabis-related arrest records created between 2013 and 2019 be expunged by January 1, 2021, a total of 47,000 records. With the expungement of all 492,129 cannabis arrest records, ISP is four years ahead of the January 1, 2025 statutory deadline for completing automatic expungements. While the expungement process has been completed at the state level, county clerks are still processing expungements at the local level. Arrest records from DuPage, Kane, Knox, Lake, McHenry, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Will, and Winnebago Counties have been expunged at the local level. The remaining counties have until January 1, 2025 to expunge their 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. 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 center stage,” said Toi Hutchinson, Senior Advisor to the Governor on Cannabis Control. “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.”
One of the issues facing advocates fighting for cannabis legalization is “how” to legalize. I respect many viewpoints that folks have, but personally contend that ending criminal penalties for the cannabis community should be the number one priority. After ending damaging arrests and convictions, it is imperative that we lift up those that have had their lives hurt by prohibition and clearing their criminal records is a necessary foundation of that.
Here in Oregon, we immediately improved expungement laws regarding cannabis convictions following legalization, but we must do more. Too many people are unaware that their records can be expunged or they may lack the resources to submit the necessary paperwork as there are filing fees and some may need to hire an attorney to assist them. Oregon is a pioneer in cannabis law reform, but we can still learn from others. We need to learn from Illinois and other states that have made expungement automatic. Those with Oregon records, can check their eligibility for expungement here with RecordSponge, courtesy of the Qui Qui Law Firm.
Our cannabis tax dollars do a lot of good, especially when we support local businesses, and it’s time that those dollars help repair some of the wrongs of the Drug War. We can be proud that we are setting aside funding for schools and providing more drug treatment and recovery programs, but we need to always remember those harmed by the war on cannabis and utilize our resources in righting some wrongs of our prohibition past as well.