Last June, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize adult-use cannabis, and the first state to directly include provisions for social justice and equity in its adult-use law. This new law allows any Illinois resident busted with anywhere between 31 and 500 grams of weed to appeal to the courts to have their records expunged.
For residents who have been convicted for possessing 30 grams of cannabis or less, the state is offering an easier alternative. Rather than expungement, these individuals are now eligible for executive clemency. Unlike the expungement process, which must be handled by the court system, executive clemency allows the governor to pardon or exonerate anyone who's committed a crime.
Starting on January 1st of next year, the date that the adult-use law goes into effect, all local and state police agencies in Illinois are required to identify every individual who has been arrested for cannabis possession. The law imposes a six-month deadline for police to dig up these records. Police are then required to forward the records of anyone busted with 30 or fewer grams of weed to the Governor's Prisoner Review Board.
Upon receiving these records, the Prisoner Review Board is obligated to review each and every case to determine its eligibility for clemency. If the records are correct and show no violent offenses connected to the cannabis crime, the review board will recommend these cases to Governor J.B. Pritzker for clemency. In the remainder of his first term in office, Gov. Pritzker is expected to issue hundreds of thousands of pardons for these minor weed offenses.
After the pardons are issued, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul will ask a circuit court judge to expunge the criminal records for every individual who's been granted clemency. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents are expected to have cannabis crimes erased from their records, allowing them greater access to housing benefits, employment, and government benefits.
An executive pardon will forgive a conviction. Vacating a conviction will permanently remove it from court records. An expungement, however, will not remove it from court records, but will hide it from public view, so that no one can see it without a court order.
Individuals busted for having between 31 and 500 grams of weed must handle their expungement process through the courts — a more challenging process that may require legal assistance on the part of the applicant. Prosecutors and police can also challenge these expungement requests, making the process even more difficult.
The Pritzker administration said they expect the expungement process to proceed smoothly, but due to a massive number of cases, the initiative is expected to take several years. Convictions filed between January 1, 2013 and December 31 of this year will be expunged by January 1, 2021. Convictions from 2002 to 2012 will be cleared by 2023, and cases dating prior to 2000 will be cleared by 2025.