New Leaf Illinois continues to assist with cannabis record expungements
In 2019, Illinois voted to legalize cannabis. The law took effect in January 2020. Part of the conversations around legalization of cannabis dealt with the historical and disproportionate punishment of cannabis offenses, mostly on people of color. The sponsors of the legislation built equity provisions when it came to licenses, expungement of past cannabis records and the R3 program: Restore reinvest and renew.
The equity provision around expungement of past cannabis records is where New Leaf Illinois comes in. Money was set aside that allowed for the funding of legal aid to assist people in the expungement and vacating of cannabis convictions that didn’t fall under the automatic process. Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, a 25-year-old foundation with the mission to distribute state appropriations to legal aid, created a network and grants process for New Leaf Illinois.
New Leaf Illinois launched officially in November 2020. According to Beth Johnson, New Leaf Illinois Program Manager, there are three types of cannabis expungement. The first is automatic expungement of law enforcement records for non-conviction. The second was Governor granted pardons for minor cannabis offenses, misdemeanors, Class 4, under a certain amount of grams. Once pardoned, the Attorney General files a motion for it to be expunged, court and police records.
“There’s no click of a button to expunge records, the process is long,” said Johnson, who also is the Managing Partner at Rights and restoration Law Group, a social justice private law firm.
Johnson added that the grantees that expunge cannabis records, also look at the person’s whole criminal record. Her hope is that people reach out to take advantage of New Leaf Illinois’ services. In September, WVON partnered with New Leaf Illinois during an event for people to register to find out about their cannabis record status.
Part of the outreach efforts are for people to look for available remedies and take advantage of the service sooner rather than later. New Leaf Illinois is one centralized portal where the attorneys will do the research and provide people with a direct referral. Johnson said that more than 300,000 have come through the New Leaf Illinois portal.
When it comes to misconceptions about expungement of cannabis records, Johnson said it is the automatic expungement process, which did not touch court records. The second was that a cannabis conviction record could not be used as a disqualifier in the employment process because cannabis is now legal.
“It is best to address that when you can, knowing, as well, that if there is more serious stuff on your record, that you’re also concerned about, that would be part of what you would be reaching out and receiving legal representation for, as well,” Johnson said.
For more information about New Leaf Illinois, visit newleafillinois.org.
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