Illinois Governor JB Pritzker granted over 11,000 pardons for marijuana convictions on Tuesday.
The expungement process is part of a new marijuana legalization law which takes full effect on Wednesday.
The governor announced the pardons at a church on Chicago’s South Side, reports the Associated Press. He said clearing the misdemeanor offenses from individuals’ records will make it easier for them to get jobs, housing and financial aid for college. State officials estimate that 116,000 convictions for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana are eligible for pardons under the new law.
“We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” Pritzker said in a statement. “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.”
Given Illinois lawmakers wanted the process to be as streamlined as possible for non-violent marijuana offenders, the expungements are automatic.
“We know that Black Illinois residents are far more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana possession than whites,” said Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “This is a good step forward as we begin the legal sales of recreational marijuana.” Pritzker’s office said 92 of the state’s 102 counties are represented among the pardons announced Tuesday.
“The 11,017 pardons that Gov. Pritzker is granting today are thousands of lives forever changed — and hundreds of thousands more will be changed in the coming months,” said Toi Hutchinson , a former state senator who now is an adviser to Pritzker on marijuana policy. “Those who were unfairly targeted by discriminatory drug laws can finally get ahead and build a new future for themselves and their families.”
People who have been convicted of offenses involving more than 30 grams of marijuana in Illinois can file court petitions to clear those records. Local prosecutors and legal aid organizations also can take that step independently, states the AP. State officials estimate that 34,000 records are eligible for that process.
Illinois regulators said 34 dispensaries have been issued licenses to sell recreational marijuana starting Wednesday, but not all of them plan to participate immediately. Industry leaders have warned consumers to expect long lines and potential shortages of products.
“This is Day One of the end of prohibition. This is not a finished product on Day One,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the legislation in the House. She noted that the Illinois law ensures that the needs of patients who depend on marijuana for medical use will be met. She says advocates have acknowledged since the beginning that supply will be an issue at first. “There will always be hiccups,” she said.