Illinois governor pardons thousands convicted of marijuana crimes

Illinois’s governor on Tuesday granted more than 11,000 pardons for people convicted of low-level marijuana convictions, ahead of the state legalizing the drug beginning Jan. 1.

Gov. JB Pritzker (D) granted 11,017 pardons for misdemeanor cannabis-related convictions as part of the law, which takes effect Wednesday. The law will make Illinois the 11th state to legalize the use of marijuana for adults who are at least 21 years old.

Pritzker announced the pardons at a church on Chicago’s south side. He said the convictions have held people back from good jobs, housing and financial aid for college.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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," Pritzker said in a statement.

State officials estimate there are 116,000 convictions for possession up to 30 grams not associated with a violent offense eligible for expungement through the pardon process. 

Under the law, Illinois State Police were responsible for identifying the eligible convictions and sending the records to the state’s Prisoner Review Board, which then forwarded them to the governor’s office for pardons.

The law will also allow individuals, civil legal aid organizations acting on their behalf and state's attorneys to file motions to vacate for possession convictions up to 500 grams. Cannabis sales tax revenue will generate funding for programs to help individuals expunge these records, the state said. 

Approximately 34,000 records are eligible for expungement under that process, the state said.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois applauded Pritzker “for acting to address the history of unnecessary and discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws in Illinois.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“We know that Black Illinois residents are far more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana possession than whites. This is a good step forward as we begin the legal sales of recreational marijuana,” said Ben Ruddell, the group’s criminal justice policy director.

The new law will allow adult Illinois residents to legally possess 30 grams of cannabis flower, and up to 500 mg of THC in a cannabis-infused product. 

State officials noted that one quarter of all revenue generated through cannabis sales will be directed to communities hit hard by police efforts to stop marijuana use. According to Pritzker, the Restore, Reinvest and Renew program “aims to address the impact of economic disinvestment, violence and the historical overuse of the criminal justice system.

Pritzker said unlike other states that have legalized marijuana, Illinois “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."