Chicago Prosecutors Erase Thousands of Cannabis Convictions

Chicago Prosecutors Erase Thousands of Cannabis Convictions
A young woman smokes in Midtown New York City on March 31, 2021. (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)
Isabel van Brugen

Chicago prosecutors on Wednesday announced that over 15,000 cannabis convictions have been expunged.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, the state’s top prosecutor, said her office would expunge an additional 214 cannabis cases this week, bringing the total number of cannabis convictions removed from the record since December 2019 to 15,191.

The measure is in line with cannabis rules that were rolled out by Foxx’s office two years ago, after possessing cannabis, or weed, up to certain amounts, became legal in Illinois as of Jan. 1, 2020.

When cannabis was legalized, part of the same law also created ways to clear criminal records for weed. Foxx said police would automatically remove law enforcement records for those who were arrested as an adult for possession of 500 grams or less or dealing up to 30 grams of the substance before June 25, 2019.

The law also states that the individual must not have given weed to someone under 18 who was at least three years younger or have been arrested for a violent crime in the same case as the weed charges.

The automatic expungement process for arrests does not expunge court records, Foxx’s office emphasizes, adding that individuals must file a Motion to Vacate and Expunge the record for this to happen.

Foxx said that thousands of people will have been brought relief following the expunges.

“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 in a statement on Wednesday.

“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,” she said.

“This is so much more than conviction relief for thousands of individuals. This is about rebuilding trust in the criminal justice system," Foxx added.

According to Foxx’s office, there are 588 cannabis cases in the system dating back to 1965, but these cases have "insufficient data to expunge and require additional research."

On April 1, the House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation that seeks to legalize marijuana nationwide, removing criminal penalties for those who grow, distribute or possess the substance.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act is sponsored by Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. It needs support in the Senate before heading to President Joe Biden’s desk.