Marijuana convictions soon might come off Illinois criminal records

Illinoisans convicted of possession of cannabis prior to the state’s 2016 decriminalization law could see those crimes expunged under a bill passed by the Illinois House.

Illinoisans convicted of possessing cannabis before Illinois’ 2016 decriminalization law could soon see those offenses wiped from their criminal records.

On Nov. 29, the Illinois House of Representatives voted 67-37 to pass House Bill 2367. The bill will proceed to the Senate, where lawmakers in the upper chamber will have the option to advance the measure when they reconvene in January.

HB 2367, sponsored by state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, would amend the Cannabis Control Act by allowing Illinoisans to petition the courts to expunge cannabis offenses or guilty pleas added to their criminal records prior to Illinois’ decriminalization of marijuana in 2016. Ex-offenders would begin to qualify for an expungement three years following the completion of their sentences.

The bill earned chief co-sponsorships from state Reps. Juliana Stratton, D-Bronzeville; Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria; Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside; and Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City.

In July 2016, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law P.A. 99-0697, reducing the penalty for possessing up to 10 grams of marijuana — about the weight of four new pennies — to a fine of between $100 and $200. Prior to decriminalization, the Cannabis Control Act made possession of up to 2.5 grams of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Possession of 2.5 to 10 grams was a Class B misdemeanor under the act, and punishable by up to six months in jail.

However, Illinoisans convicted on marijuana possession charges prior to the 2016 reform have seen the more severe convictions remain on their records, potentially hurting job opportunities.

At the end of fiscal year 2014, 672 people in Illinois prisons were serving time for violating the Cannabis Control Act. Another 731 people were on parole for violating the act.

Rauner signed a pair of bills in August that expanded criminal record sealing eligibility for non-violent ex-offenders and expungement of criminal records for juveniles.

Additionally, Rauner pushed the state toward marijuana reform when he signed into law Senate Bill 336, which expanded Illinois’ medical marijuana program by enabling patients to access medical marijuana in place of opioid medications. Illinois’ medical marijuana program is set to expire July 2020. The governor signed another related bill in August that lifted restrictions on the production of industrial hemp.

State leaders should build on the momentum of these reforms, and continue to advance measures that reduce barriers to employment. When Senate lawmakers return to Springfield in 2019, they’d be wise to send HB 2367 to the governor’s desk.

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