After Illinois Makes Marijuana Legal, Governor Expunges Over 11,000 Weed Convictions

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker granted more than 11,000 pardons for low-level marijuana convictions on Tuesday, one day before the state became the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana use for adults 21 years old and older.

Quick Facts

  • The state’s new marijuana legalization law known as the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act included 11,017 misdemeanor expungements in 92 counties, according to the governor’s office. Pritzker granted the pardon so individuals with misdemeanor cannabis convictions can find housing and jobs. There are more than 700,000 records that will be eligible to be expunged.

  • In a statement, Pritzker said: “We are ending the 50-year long war on cannabis. We are restoring rights to many tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core. Every state that has legalized cannabis has seen high demand and long lines in its earliest weeks, and to be sure, our state will, too. But unlike other states, in Illinois, we purposely built a system where the market has room to grow, so that entrepreneurs, including especially those from the communities devastated by the war on drugs, will have real opportunities in this industry."

  • There are 116,000 convictions for possession of marijuana of 30 grams or less that are eligible for expungement, according to the governor’s office. Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx has already relieved 1,000 convictions earlier this month.

  • In a statement, Foxx wrote, "Today we took another step toward justice, as we continue to address the failed war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on communities of color. Clearing records under this revolutionary new law will not only open doors for thousands of families but will create stronger, safer communities as well. I'm proud to work alongside Governor Pritzker and other leaders as we make criminal justice reform a top priority in Cook County and across Illinois."

  • As of Wednesday, the state of Illinois now allows recreational marijuana sales. There are 37 marijuana stores in Illinois with licenses that were able to open on January 1, the Chicago Tribune reported.

  • Consumers over the age of 21, with or without a medical marijuana card, can purchase cannabis products from licensed sellers in the state, according to Illinois Policy.

  • Illinois residents can legally possess 30 grams, which is about an ounce, of marijuana. The limit for cannabis-infused products, like edibles, is limited to 500 milligrams of THC, which is the chemical that can make users high.

  • Smoking marijuana is only legal in one’s home or in some cannabis-related businesses. Users cannot use cannabis in public spaces, in vehicles, on school grounds, near anyone under the age of 21, or near safety officials and on-duty school bus driver. Universities and colleges can also ban marijuana use on campus, the Illinois Policy website states.

  • Medical marijuana users are the only users who are allowed to grow five marijuana plants at a time in their own homes, according to the Illinois Policy website. Those who don’t have a medical marijuana card can be charged up to a $200 fine. Although, “craft growers” can apply for licenses to grow up to 5,000 square feet of the plant.

  • Cannabis will also be taxed. The Illinois Policy website states that marijuana or cannabis products less than 35 percent of THC will be hit with a 10 percent sales tax, while edibles are slapped with a 20 percent tax. Any products with a THC concentration over 35 percent will have a 25 percent tax, according to the site.

What they’re saying

Legalization advocates are thrilled over the new law taking effect this week, as well as the pardons. Morgan Fox, the media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) told The North Star that Illinois showed great leadership, and that the law is a step in the right direction.

“In so many places, the voters have been the driving force behind any sort of cannabis policy reform. Lawmakers and political leaders have been really slow to catch up with where people are at and have taken the time with implementation, and not necessarily in a good way,” Fox said. “But, I think this really shows that the leadership in Illinois was 100 percent behind this, and the fact that they’re actually making these restorative justice provisions take effect immediately is great.”

Fox did note that while the state is headed in the right direction, these are only over 11,000 people who will be pardoned while there are 700,000 cases in the state that still need to be vacated.

“It’s amazing we’re getting to the point that this is a conversation we’re having. It’s not whether or not we should legalize, but how we legalize and how we deal with the negative impacts that the war on drugs has had, particularly for marginalized communities,” Fox said.

Chris Lindsey, the director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told TNS that it was very involved in drafting the language and working closely with the sponsors of the law in an effort to improve the lives of Illinoisans. Lindsey said some doubted the law would pass, as the legislature in the midwest would not be very supportive. Chris Lindsey, the director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told TNS that it was very involved in drafting the language and working closely with the sponsors of the law

in an effort to improve the lives of Illinoisans. Lindsey said some doubted the law would pass, as the legislature in the midwest would not be very supportive.

“It showed that things were changing very quickly on how the public was looking at this new regulatory approach,” said Lindsey. “It was fantastic to see that change happen within Illinois, but I think it very much speaks to a trend that we’ll see around the country as lawmakers around the U.S. start to look at these programs more closely.”

There are currently eleven states, including the District of Columbia, that have made recreational marijuana use legal (see graphic). And Fox said more states in 2020 could be jumping on board as well and bring marijuana measures to voters, especially in the northeast.

He noted that all the states in that region, such as New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, could pass marijuana reform initiatives in 2020.

“All of those states are very close to, if not on the verge of, passing some sort of significant cannabis policy reform in the next year,” said Fox.

The federal government has also pushed to pass significant marijuana reform in the past year. The MORE Act , which was introduced in July, would decriminalize marijuana across the country by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, expunging past marijuana convictions as well. And in September, Congress voted to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which allows banks to partner with licensed marijuana businesses in their state.

“I think we’re setting the stage for a very positive year in terms of cannabis policy reform in 2020 if lawmakers can manage to focus on actually getting things done for their constituents as opposed to just worrying about the politics,” Fox told TNS.


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.