POLITICS

Illinois Expunges Nearly 500,000 Cannabis Arrest Records

"We can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past -- and the decency to set a better path forward,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) closed out 2020 by expunging nearly 500,000 non-felony cannabis-related records, an action mandated by Illinois’ marijuana legalization law that went into effect a year ago.

As part of the action, the governor also pardoned 9,219 low-level cannabis conviction records, part of the state’s efforts to repair the damage inflicted by the war on drugs ― primarily on residents of color.

“We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of the damage in communities of color, who have disproportionately shouldered this burden,” Pritzker said Thursday in a statement announcing the expungements. “But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past — and the decency to set a better path forward.”

Illinois’ Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which legalized cannabis in the state, required the government to expunge 47,000 cannabis-related arrest records created between 2013 and 2019 by Jan. 1, 2021.

In a unique twist, the law also created a program that reinvests 25% of cannabis tax revenue into a fund for youth development, anti-violence programs, re-entry programs, economic development and civil legal aid services for “R3 communities” ― those dealing with high rates of gun violence, child poverty and incarceration rates.

With Thursday’s action, the state also met a separate January 2025 deadline to expunge all 492,192 state-level records.

However, only nine of the state’s 102 counties have finished clearing their own non-felony cannabis-related arrest records.

In a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times, state Sen. Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D) said the expungements are encouraging, yet ultimately incremental.

“Dismantling decades’ worth of criminal justice atrocities will take years. That’s evidenced by how this country handles cannabis,” she said. “We must never stop chipping away at that painful history. I’m proud of these critical first steps.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated Illinois has 201 counties. It has 102.