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Illinois, Michigan Send Old Marijuana Convictions Up In Smoke
Colorado has pardons, but way behind on expungement. Which is a funny word, man.
Now that a bunch more states have legalized recreational marijuana use, several of them are also expunging the criminal records of people with low-level weed convictions on their records. That means a lot of people will have an easier time getting jobs, at least in the hypothetical post-pandemic future when "jobs" become a thing again. It's all part of the nation's slow return to NORM Lcy.
In Illinois, where recreational cannabis became legal January 1, the office of Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx began expunging 1,200 minor weed convictions on October 6. Foxx's office is expunging about 300 convictions a week. The bill legalizing weed included language to expunge convictions for possession of 30 grams or less, but the actual implementation had been delayed for several months by the coronavirus pandemic. This is actually the second wave of expungements in Cook County; last December, shortly before the law went into effect, Foxx motioned to vacate and expunge 1,000 such convictions.
This new round of expungements will cover convictions from January 1, 2013, to December 31, 2019, the last day possession of small amounts was still illegal. Foxx plans to vacate convictions from 2000 to 2012 starting next year, but to follow through on that, she'll have to win reelection in two weeks. She's currently in a close race with Republican Pat O'Brien, who is running on a law-n-order Get Tough platform. Foxx is facing backlash from the right for her office's handling of the 2019 Jussie Smollett case. Vacating old convictions is mandated by the state pot legalization law, but we have a sneaking feeling that might not be a huge priority should O'Brien win. Freakin' narc.
People whose convictions qualify for relief under the law don't need to take any action to have their records cleared; they'll simply receive a notice from Cook County informing them their conviction is gone for good.
Foxx said in a statement that she was proud her office could help move justice forward and help repair some of the damage done by the War on Some Drugs:
Felony convictions can follow people long after their time has been served and their debt has been paid. [...]
As prosecutors, we need to own the role "the system" has played on the failed war on drugs, causing disproportionate harm to Black and brown communities who were convicted of low-level cannabis offenses.
Foxx and other progressive prosecutors have been singled out for the ire of US Attorney General Bill Barr, who thinks Americans who don't love cops busting heads don't necessarily deserve to have any safety at all.
But Illinois isn't the only state giving old pot convictions an expunge bath — in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed legislation that will enable the automated expungement of a wide variety of criminal convictions that qualify for being cleared. The system should also make it easier for people to apply to have their records cleared.
The "Clean Slate" bill, Whitmer said, will ensure that Michigan residents who haven't committed a misdemeanor in the past seven years or a felony in the last 10 years can expunge their criminal records easily and cheaply.
The automated expungements are part of broader criminal justice reforms in Michigan, and it will also help clean up records for low-level cannabis convictions following the state's 2018 legalization of recreational weed:
Outside of expunging records for felons, the laws will treat multiple felonies or misdemeanors from the same incident as a single felony or misdemeanor and allow people to set aside at least one marijuana-related offense if it wouldn't have been a crime under the state's new recreational marijuana laws.
Imagine that — technology being used for good, not evil!
And finally, in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis earlier this month issued mass pardons for 2,732 low-level marijuana convictions for possession of up to two ounces of pot, the limit allowed for personal use under Colorado's 2014 legalization of recreational weed. There are a few technicalities, though: The pardons will only go to people convicted in state courts, not to those convicted in municipal courts, and the pardons won't expunge the convictions. Those eligible for pardons won't need to apply.
Unlike several states that have legalized cannabis more recently, Colorado doesn't yet have a process to automatically expunge old convictions; Democrats in the state legislature hope to move a bill on that in the next session. But while the pardons won't remove the old convictions or seal people's records, the Denver Post explains,
the convictions will be removed from individuals' public records, so if a member of the public runs a background check, a conviction won't show up. It would still appear in law enforcement background checks but with a note about the governor's pardon.
Pretty good news from three states, and a reminder: If you want justice reform, pass to the left.
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