While Illinois has legalized recreational marijuana and pardoned more than 11,000 people with marijuana cases, removing marijuana charges and convictions from your record may require more leg work from some who don’t qualify under the automatic clearing of certain marijuana records.
“We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement just after signing into law a measure that legalized recreational marijuana in Illinois. “We are restoring rights to many tens of thousands of Illinoisans,” he said.
But getting those rights restored may take a bit of work for some but will be automatic for others. Last June, Illinois became the eleventh state to legalize marijuana and was one of the first to do so through legislation instead of a vote from the public.
The new law allows removal of marijuana charges from someone’s record, which will greatly help with employment, housing, and other opportunities. So, how do you take advantage of the new law? If you have a charge or conviction for less than 30 grams of marijuana that wasn’t tied to a violent crime, the process is automatic. You don’t have to do anything. But it can take a while.
If your marijuana record was created between January 1, 2013, and January 1, 2020, it should already be expunged from your record. The deadline for that was January 1 of this year.
If your marijuana record was created prior to January 1, 2013, or after January 1, 2020, it should be expunged by January 1, 2023.
No matter where you fall in this scheme, your job is to make sure that your address is up to date with the clerk of the court where your marijuana case occurred. That’s because notification of expungement will be sent to the last known address the clerk has on file for you.
And be patient. Your record has to pass through at least five governmental offices before it can be cleared. First, the state police must pull your record; next, a prison review board determines which records should be forwarded to the governor’s office for a pardon; then, the governor approves or dismisses the pardon; next, the state’s attorney general gets a chance to challenge the pardon; and finally, the record goes back to the state police to be expunged.
However, if you were convicted of 30 to 500 grams of marijuana, you’ll have to do the work yourself to get your record cleared. Expungement is not automatic for these cases. This means you’ll have to petition the court to remove the marijuana charge from your record, and then a judge decides if you should qualify. There’s no guarantee it will happen.
There’s also a difference between an “expungement” and a “pardon.” A pardon means that the governor has forgiven your crime, but it does not remove it from your record. An expungement, on the other hand, is what erases the crime from your record. While a pardon often leads to an expungement, it is not automatic.
An alternative to expungement, if you can’t get one, is to petition the court to “seal” your marijuana record. This would make your record closed to the public, but it would still show up for law enforcement and for official background checks. It does not erase the marijuana charge from your record.
“Illinois is probably something of a model now,” says Sam Kamin, a professor of marijuana law and policy at the University of Denver. “When marijuana law reform comes up now, social justice and expungement has to be taken on.”
Even if your record is not expunged, you may still be able to do some damage control by removing your information from commercial background check websites. Some advocates recommend that you “opt out” of those sites. They point out that every commercial background site has an option to remove yourself from their service. One site, www.registryreport.org, offers instructions on how to do this with the major sites.
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