Illinois governor expunges almost half a million cannabis cases

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Governor J. B. Pritzker of Illinois wrapped up 2020 by announcing on Thursday, December 31 that he forgave and expunged approximately half a million criminal cannabis cases last year. 

Pardons were issued by the Gov. Pritzker for 9,210 low-level cannabis convictions. Meanwhile, the Illinois State Police department has erased in excess of 492,000 non-felony cannabis-related arrest records.

Cannabis-related expungements in Illinois have been taking place as a direct effect of the state’s legal cannabis law, which went into effect at the beginning of 2020.

The primary goal of expunging low-level cannabis convictions in Illinois is to minimize the impact that the failed war on drugs has had on state residents living in the hardest-hit communities.

“We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage,” Pritzker said. “But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past and the decency to set a better path forward.”

State police are expunging cannabis-related offenses in Illinois at a rapid rate 

By January 1, state law required that Illinois State police departments expunge 47,000 cannabis-related arrest records created between the years 2013 and 2019. Following the expungement of 492,129 cannabis arrest records, state police are four years ahead of the statutory deadline Jan. 1, 2025 that was set to automatically expunge cannabis-related offenses in Illinois at the state level.

Police officials claim that county clerks are still in the process of expunging records at the local level; COVID-19 store closures have largely stinted the process of expunging cannabis-related offenses in Illinois. While DuPage, Kane, Knox, Lake, McHenry, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Will and Winnebago counties have already expunged their records, a deadline date of Jan. 1, 2025 is still in place for the remaining counties. 

Illinois Senate approves bill to improve cannabis social equity licensing

On Wednesday, January 13, state senators advanced a measure to enhance the social equity licensing process in Illinois. The approval has occurred more than one year since adult-use cannabis sales began statewide. Its primary aim is to grant low-income people the opportunity to own and operate a cannabis business.

So far, since Illinois’ adult-use market launched in January of 2020, no person of color acting as the majority owner for a cannabis business has been awarded a license. The newly advanced measure would develop two licensing lottery systems: tiered and qualified. Those systems will determine who is on the receiving end of a dispensary license.

“[The] main goal is to get more licenses out the door and into the hands of socially equitable applicants,”  State Sen. Cristina Castro (D) told reporters at The Chicago Sun-Times. Moreover, the bill would distribute additional adult-use dispensary licenses among 75 high-scoring applicants who missed out on a license during the initial round.