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Over two years have passed since the state of Illinois legalized recreational cannabis, and over 15,000 cannabis-related expungements have now been completed.
Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) announced on April 20 that it had finalized their goal to complete the Cannabis Expungement Project, an effort that sought to cleanse Illinois residents’ records of any cannabis-related crimes. Leader of this effort, Attorney Kim Foxx, shared on Twitter that on April 22, the office would be presenting an additional 214 cases to be auto-expunged, for a total of 15,191, thus concluding the project.
Foxx also released a statement addressing the importance of working on expungement programs. “Felony charges can affect every aspect of a person’s life, from jobs to housing, long after the debt to society has been paid,” Foxx said. “I am proud that by working with advocates, Code for America, the Chief Judge’s Office, the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court, and the Illinois State Police we were able to bring relief for so many individuals so that they, their families, and their communities can move forward.”
There are still a final 588 cannabis-related cases, some of which go back to 1965, that do not have enough data for immediate expungement. In a press release, the CCSAO noted that they are working with the state to examine those cases in closer detail.
Overall, Foxx added “[T]his is so much more than conviction relief for thousands of individuals. This is about rebuilding trust in the criminal justice system.”
Foxx began exploring what would be necessary to seek out expungement back in April 2019. In June 2019, Governor J. B. Pritzker signed the state’s recreational cannabis law, which also immediately expunged 800,000 residents whose records were marked with small scale cannabis possession.
In August 2019, Foxx and the CCSAO announced their collaboration with Code for America to begin expungement for any case possession charges up to 30 grams. “It is prosecutors who were part of the War on Drugs, we were part of a larger ecosystem that believed that in the interest of public safety, that these were convictions that were necessary to gain,” Foxx said. “In the benefit of hindsight and looking at the impact of the War on Drugs, it is also prosecutors who have to be at the table to ensure that we are righting the wrongs of the past.”
Foxx filed the first motions for expungement on December 2019 to proactively begin the process through the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020. Shortly after, the pandemic caused court closures that didn’t resume until later in 2020.
At the time, some local police were not supportive of clearing cannabis convictions from people’s records. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham (which back then, managed over 10,000 officers in Chicago) expressed his opposition to freeing people from their past convictions. “Even if the law changes, that does not change the fact that these people knew they were breaking the law, were arrested and convicted once again disregarding the hard work of police officers, who may have been injured while apprehending these offenders,” he said in 2019.
Graham is no longer in that position as of 2020, when he lost the bid for reelection and was replaced by former President John Catanzara in 2020 (who later resigned in November 2021). Graham was suspended for three years in 2020 after a hidden camera was left in Catanzara’s office.
The Illinois cannabis industry has come a long way, and its success has been seen in sales data that has continually increased over time. In 2021, Illinois cannabis sales doubled in comparison to revenue collected in 2020. An Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation report shared that recreational sales reached $669 million in 2020, and $1,379,088,278 during 2021.
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