SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – When Illinois passed the law legalizing marijuana in the state, Governor Pritzker promised to clear the criminal records of those with minor offenses on their record.
Since that law was signed, more than 780,000 people with minor, non-conviction cannabis offenses have gotten their records expunged. Once you include the people convicted of marijuana-related offenses pardoned by Governor Pritzker, that number gets close to 800,000.
New Leaf Illinois, a state funded network of non-profit organizations, says there are still plenty of people who still need to have their records expunged. The organization is encouraging people who have marijuana related charges on their records to reach out for legal help.
“Don’t wait until you’re in the situation where you feel like ‘I need my record cleared’ even if you feel like you’re in a good place, but you got the record out there, get it taken care of now have it looked into because you don’t want it to come up at some point in the future, and then you have to wait several months to get it taken care of,” Dan Kuehnert, the senior staff attorney at Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, said.
New Leaf launched in November 2020 and it helps people with getting their marijuana related crimes expunged from their records.
“The goal was to create a centralized statewide access point that anyone could reach out to, to be able to see if ‘Yes, am I eligible for that relief,’” Beth Johnson, the New Leaf project manager, said.
Some of those expungements happen automatically, specifically for people with non-convictions.
“It’s really important for folks to reach out to New Leaf to have a chance to talk to an experienced advocate like one of us, because the headlines could be like ‘automatic expungement like, Oh, well that’s taken care of, for me,’ it might not apply to your record maybe because you’ve got a conviction, maybe because it was a larger amount of cannabis,” Kuehnert said.
For people who still might have the history on their record, it could hurt them when they’re looking for work, housing or even getting financial help to pay for college.
“If you have a drug conviction, you’re not eligible for federal student aid, which means that a lot of people can’t afford to go to college and unburdening them from a criminal conviction or drug related criminal conviction can allow them to do that,” Erin Johnson, the state’s acting Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer, said.
For people who need help, they can visit New Leaf’s website at www.newleafillinois.org or call 855-963-9532.