Illinois became the latest American state to fully legalize cannabis when Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law HB 1438. More specifically, it became the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis after Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Maine, Arizona, Michigan, Vermont, and Nevada, plus D.C.
Now, some 770,000 Illinois residents with minor cannabis convictions can finally heave a sigh of relief as the state gets ready to clear their records.
Under the new law, Illinois residents who have previously been convicted for possession of less than 30 grams of pot will automatically be qualified to have their records expunged. They can get their cannabis crime records cleared so long as they were not involved in violent crime as part their conviction.
Those residents whose convictions involved between 30 to 500 grams of cannabis won’t receive automatic clemency. However, they can individually petition the court for the expungement of their records. It has to be noted, though, that the court will decide on a case-by-case basis.
The new Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which will take effect in January 2020, defines “expunge” as physically destroying criminal records or returning them to the petitioners and to obliterate their name from public record or any official index. It does now, however, require physically destroying circuit court files.
Not all states that have fully legalized cannabis have offered automatic clemency for marijuana convictions. In fact, it was only in May when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law giving cannabis offenders the chance to have their sentences vacated. Washington legalized recreational pot in 2012, making it the first state to do so.
Gov. Pritzker’s move to legalize recreational cannabis in Illinois is the fulfillment of a promise he had made during his campaign.
Why clear cannabis conviction records?
Many people have faced criminal prosecution for decades on account of a behavior that is no longer considered a crime in certain states. These are the states that have legalized recreational cannabis, and the possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use is no longer considered criminal behavior.
As their way of recognizing the evolution of the people’s and the state government’s beliefs about cannabis, some states are providing clemency relief to some individuals who have these prior cannabis convictions on their records. Some states are also offering an expedited process for granting pardon to individuals with a single misdemeanor conviction on their criminal record for adult cannabis possession.
Social equity program
Another great thing about Illinois’ Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act is the provision for a social equity program. This program makes it easier for people with cannabis convictions to obtain business licenses.
This social equity program also allocates $12 million for startup cannabis business. It also sets aside funding for job training programs in the cannabis industry.
The state’s Department of Agriculture, together with its community college board, is creating pilot programs that would help people get ready to work in the cannabis industry. The state will require prioritizing the enrolment of low-income students into these cannabis programs.
Illinois’ cannabis program is impressive
Aside from social equity programs, the state’s recreational cannabis bill also has provisions that protect medical cannabis users.
These protections make Illinois’ medical cannabis program one of the stronger programs in the country, according to David Mangone, the director of government affairs for Americans for Safe Access. Americans for Safe Access advocates for legal cannabis for research and therapeutic use.
Previous experience by other states in legalizing adult-use marijuana has shown that the increased demand from recreational pot users can cause supply issues for the existing medical pot users. Additionally, some of these states have seen a steep drop in their medical cannabis program participation rates as some cannabis patients see no more value in keeping their medical card status and, therefore, turn to recreational pot.