Last month, Illinois legalized recreational cannabis use with House Bill 1438. Along with the legalization, the legislation allows for hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests and Illinois cannabis convictions to be eligible for expungements.
Residents may purchase and possess up to 1 ounce (30 grams) of marijuana at a time. Non-residents may have 15 grams. The law provides for cannabis purchases by adults 21 and older at approved dispensaries, which, after they’re licensed and established, may start selling Jan. 1, 2020. Possession remains a crime until Jan. 1, a spokesman for Senate Democrats said.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx saw an opportunity, and worked with legislators throughout the bill-writing process to incorporate criminal justice reform, specifically in the form of expungements.
“I think this legislation is absolutely historic,” Foxx said. “There is the potential for hundreds of thousands of people who have had marijuana convictions to have those records expunged.”
Foxx has promised to automatically vacate all cannabis convictions for under 30 grams of marijuana in Cook County through her office.
Those with 30 to 500 gram possession charges will have to petition to have their charges expunged. And any non-automatic expungements are not guaranteed, since prosecutors will have the ability to object.
“We’ve always treated expungements on a case-by-case basis,” said Dupage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin. “Sometimes we object, sometimes we don’t. We will treat cannabis no differently.”
The numbers of marijuana charges are still only estimates, as Illinois State Police have yet to release exact numbers for convictions and arrests in the state or individual counties.
But State Senator Heather Steans, who co-sponsored House Bill 1438 to legalize recreational marijuana, estimated that there are more than 770,000 marijuana convictions and arrests in Illinois that will now be eligible for expungement. Foxx believes that around 70 percent of those from Cook County.
African-Americans have been most susceptible to the “Just say ‘No‴-era crackdowns on weed. According to a 2010 statistic from the American Civil Liberties Union that while blacks comprise 15% of Illinois’ population, they account for 60% of cannabis-possession arrests.
Ten other states and the District of Columbia have legalized smoking or eating marijuana for recreational use since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington state approved ballot initiatives.