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Illinois Governor Announces Half A Million Marijuana Expungements And Pardons

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The governor of Illinois on Thursday announced more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level marijuana offenses on their records.

The massive clemency and records clearing sweep comes about one year after the state’s legal cannabis market launched. Prior to its implementation, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) granted an earlier round of more than 11,000 pardons for marijuana-related convictions.

The new effort saw slightly fewer gubernatorial pardons (9,219), but an additional 492,129 expungements for people convicted over non-felony cannabis offenses. The Illinois State Police helped facilitate the record clearing process.

Illinois’s marijuana legalization law includes restorative justice components that require the state to proactively expunge certain cannabis convictions—but this development puts Illinois four years ahead of schedule.

“Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” Pritzker said in a press release. “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,” Pritzker, who alluded to the additional pardons in October, added.

Toi Hutchinson, a senior cannabis advisor to the governor, said she is “heartened by the progress we have made towards undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs.”

“We are one year into what will be an ongoing effort to correct historic wrongdoings,” she said. “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.”

According to the press release, “the expungement process has been completed at the state level,” but “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,” it states. “The remaining counties have until January 1, 2025 to expunge their arrest records.”

Relatedly, a state-funded initiative was recently established to help residents with marijuana convictions get legal aid and other services to have their records expunged.

Last month, Illinois officials announced that it had hit yet another marijuana sales record, and it reached the key benchmark of half a billion dollars worth of legal cannabis products being purchased since the launch of the program.

The state seems to have truly demonstrated that, as Hutchinson put it in August, its cannabis market is “recession-proof” and “pandemic-proof.”

About 25 percent of the tax dollars collected from marijuana sales are designated for restorative justice grants, while other funds will support substance misuse and mental health treatment. The state announced in May that it was making about $31 million in social equity grants available to communities identified as economically distressed.

But clemency at the state level represents another tool to promote justice in the wake of the harms of the war on drugs.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is being pressed by civil rights groups to systematically issue pardons for people with marijuana convictions to supplement the state’s voter-approved move to legalize cannabis.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) used a recently enacted law to grant nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.

In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor and Board of Pardons Commissioners.

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has also issued pardons for cannabis offenses.

Congressional Democrats Tout Marijuana Legalization Vote As Key Civil Rights Win In 2020

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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