Today, Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx filed motions to vacate more than 1,000 low-level cannabis convictions. The State’s Attorney’s Office is providing this relief for Cook County residents in advance of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act taking effect on January 1, 2020. The new law makes cannabis legal in Illinois and requires the expungement of minor marijuana offenses.
The convictions vacated today were for non-violent Possession of Cannabis cases under 30g. Today’s filings, initiated by Foxx, make it as though these convictions never happened. They will now be expunged and permanently removed from criminal records.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) handles approximately 19,000 petitions for conviction relief each year, averaging approximately 1,500 each month. Today, the CCSAO processed more than 1,000 convictions in one court call.
“Today, we made history and took the first step in the single largest and most equitable piece of criminal justice reform Illinois has ever seen,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “As prosecutors who implemented these convictions, we must own our role in the harm they have caused – particularly in communities of color – and play our part in reversing them. Clearing records is not only a critical part of righting the wrongs of the failed war on drugs, but an intentional step to give people the chance to move forward, which benefits all of our communities.”
Despite being low-level and non-violent in nature, these cannabis convictions can create barriers to employment, housing, and education, as applicants are often asked if they have ever been convicted of a crime.
In January of 2019, State’s Attorney’s Foxx announced that her office would be pursuing conviction relief for low-level, non-violent cannabis offenses. In the months that followed, she worked closely with legislators to ensure that the new law included the broadest and most equitable conviction relief possible.
“Statewide, hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans are held back by their low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color. And hundreds of thousands of others have had to watch their friends and loved ones struggle because of an arrest or conviction they got for something that will be legal starting on January 1st,” said Governor J.B. Pritzker. “This is to say nothing of the fact that arrest rates and prosecution have never reflected consumption rates across racial lines.”
“We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that unfairness and the damage it visited upon so many families. But we can govern our state with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to correct the record and set a better path forward,” Pritzker added.
In August, State’s Attorney Foxx announced an innovative partnership with a non-profit organization, Code for America, to process these records quickly, efficiently, and at no cost to individuals seeking relief. With the aid of Code for America’s technology, the CCSAO can securely evaluate eligibility for record clearance by reading and interpreting conviction data in just a few minutes. This faster approach to conviction relief allows the CCSAO to focus more of its limited resources on the drivers of violent crime.
The convictions vacated today will now be expunged and removed from individuals’ records as though they never happened. Once that record has been removed, the Clerk of the Circuit Court will mail or email notice to the individual’s last known address. Cook County residents or former residents whose convictions took place in Cook County can update their address at www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/address.
Today marks another important step in righting the injustices of the past. The 1,000 names that State’s Attorney Foxx began to read in that courtroom represent 1,000 real people who will be given a second lease on life. And this is only the beginning.
Before we take questions, I want to remind everyone that yesterday kicked off the application window for a new group of cannabis dispensaries and a chance for new entrepreneurs to succeed in this new market. Social equity applicants will be eligible for the 75 licenses that will be granted in the next few months – and they’ll be able to get business loans to get off the ground, funded by the existing industry. Applicants have until January 2nd to submit their applications for a cannabis dispensary. Now and in the coming weeks, our Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will be hosting workshops across the city of Chicago and throughout the state to answer questions and assist applicants. In fact, I was pleased to see that we had a full house at their workshop in Englewood on Monday night.
And before I introduce the next speaker, I want to take a moment to recognize the solemnity of the proceeding we witnessed today in Judge Evans’ courtroom. We honored the victims of the War on Drugs and we will continue to do so in the days and months ahead.