Illinois Legalization May Lead to Hundreds of Thousands of Expungements

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People involved with cannabis have long stated that the most dangerous thing you can do with cannabis is get caught with it. Millions of Americans have learned that difficult lesson over the last few decades courtesy of the War on Drugs. After all, cannabis isn’t physically addictive, although some people may struggle with psychological or emotional addiction to it.

There’s also the impossibility of an overdose to consider. Many common drugs, including the ever-popular caffeine, have low enough overdose thresholds to make it possible for casual users who overindulge to suffer serious physical side effects, which can sometimes prove deadly. Cannabis has such a high overdose threshold that it effectively poses no dose for a fatal overdose.

Despite the lack of real dangers surrounding cannabis, the legal status of the drug has made it particularly problematic. Individuals who use it can face incarceration, as well as the various effects of a long-term criminal record, such as difficulty connecting with student financial aid for college. Anyone with a drug conviction automatically loses out on federal student aid programs.

With more states legalizing cannabis, the unfair incarceration of cannabis users has been receiving more media attention. That in turn has prompted more states to integrate social justice into their legalization initiatives. Last week, the governor of Illinois signed the legislation-passed legalization bill for cannabis into law. That means that Illinois has officially joined in Michigan as a Midwest state in which cannabis is legal for adults.

However, the Illinois law is particularly encouraging because it automatically reduces the criminal record of those with minor possession offenses. Anyone with a criminal charge related to the possession of 30 grams or less of cannabis will receive automatic clemency. Unless the same charge relates to some sort of violent crime, minor possession offenses in Illinois will no longer haunt people previously convicted.

Still, 30 gram is just over an ounce, and many people who get caught have more than that, even if they only have it for personal use. Those with anywhere from 30 to 500 grams in their possession at the time of their arrest, which is nearly a pound, will now have the right to petition the court for an expungement. A judge will then hear the claim much like they would a traditional expungement case.

The law in Illinois also has special incentives for individuals from communities affected by prohibition who want to work in the legal cannabis industry. Illinois has set a new benchmark for what cannabis legalization should look like, and given the high rate of arrests in places like Chicago for minor offenses, the forgiveness of previous criminal offenses through clemency an expungement could make drastic changes on communities and families throughout the state.

For previous Ladybud articles about Illinois, click here.

Photo Credit: Jeff Warren via Flickr under (CC BY-SA 2.0)