Illinois expunges nearly half a million cannabis cases as part of legalization

Robert McCoppin, Chicago Tribune

Ending a difficult year on a positive note, Gov. J.B. Pritzker Thursday announced the forgiveness and expungement of about half a million criminal cannabis cases.

The governor announced he issued pardons for 9,210 low-level cannabis convictions, while Illinois State Police have wiped clean more than 492,000 non-felony cannabis-related arrest records.

The expungement process is part of the state law that legalized licensed sales of marijuana starting in 2020. It’s meant to reduce the impact of the war on drugs, under which minorities were disproportionately arrested and locked up for cannabis crimes, despite similar reported rates of usage.

“”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 law requires 47,000 cannabis-related arrest records created between 2013 and 2019 be expunged by Friday. With the expungement of all 492,129 cannabis arrest records, state police said they are four years ahead of the Jan. 1, 2025 statutory deadline for completing automatic expungements at the state level.

At the local level, many county clerks were still processing expungements, police said. Arrest records from DuPage, Kane, Knox, Lake, McHenry, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Will and Winnebago counties have been expunged. The remaining counties have until Jan. 1, 2025 to expunge their arrest records.

Cannabis expungements and licensing had been delayed in part by shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, undermining what advocates emphasized as the social equity aspect of the law.

In addition, in the coming weeks, state officials also plan to grant over $25 million in cannabis-generated funding to organizations working in historically underserved communities across Illinois.