Nonprofit will help automatically clear Chicago-area marijuana convictions before legalization

Nonprofit will help automatically clear Chicago-area marijuana convictions before legalization

A nonprofit is set to help Cook County, Ill., clear tens of thousands of marijuana possession-related convictions as Illinois gets ready to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana.

The Associated Press reported that Code for America, the group that helped San Francisco expunge nearly 10,000 marijuana convictions, will help the county — which contains Chicago — through the process.

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The group uses technology to analyze criminal records nearly automatically in order to expedite the process of clearing the marijuana-related convictions.

Code for America is doing the work for Cook County at no cost to taxpayers, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said Tuesday, adding that the automation provided by the group’s digital system will do the work in a fraction of the time that it would take bureaucrats to do the task.

“It is prosecutors who have to be at the table to ensure that we’re righting the wrongs of the past,” Foxx said at a news conference Tuesday. “Conviction relief is not only a critical part of righting the wrongs on the war on drugs, it is a recommitment and a statement of our values, that a low-level marijuana conviction does not mean that someone is a threat to public safety.”

The move to expedite expunging marijuana-related convictions comes after Illinois passed a law in June making possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana legal in the state beginning Jan. 1.

Foxx said she is working with state police to identify how many conviction records the county must process.

In total, Illinois has more than 300,000 people with marijuana-related convictions that must be automatically expunged, the AP reported. Prosecutors in the state are tasked with identifying eligible cases, namely those that didn’t involve violence, and passing them to state regulators for review.

The cases would then be sent to the governor for pardon before going to the state attorney general for expungement.

Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, said she created the organization after California legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 as a way to speed up the complicated process.

“Why have all of those steps? It’s already the law that this is no longer a crime,” Pahlka said. “Let’s get this off the person’s record so that they can apply for jobs, get housing, get student loans, all of the things that they’re held back from.”