Illinois governor pardons 11,017 marijuana convictions day before new law legalizes recreational use

Chicago News USA
Illinois Democratic candidate for Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks during his primary election night victory as his Lieutenant Governor pick Juliana Stratton, left, looks on March 20, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Pritzker won the democratic primary against challengers Chris Kennedy and Daniel Bliss in the governor's race. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks during his primary election night victory March 20, 2018, in Chicago.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 low-level marijuana convictions Tuesday in a move Chicago’s state prosecutor said was a step in the right direction toward criminal justice reform. “We are ending the 50-year long war on cannabis,” Pritzker said in a news release Tuesday. “We are restoring rights to many tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core.”

Illinois became the 11th state in the nation to legalize cannabis use for adults this past Wednesday, January 1, when the new legislation went into effect, according to the governor’s office. Legislators wrote in the legislation dubbed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act: In the interest of allowing law enforcement to focus on violent and property crimes, generating revenue for education, substance abuse prevention and treatment, freeing public resources to invest in communities and other public purposes, and individual freedom, the General Assembly finds and declares that the use of cannabis should be legal for persons 21 years of age or older and should be taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.” The law made more than 700,000 records “eligible for relief,” according to the governor’s office.

The governor’s office explained that Pritzker’s recent announcement is only the first in what will be a wave of marijuana expungements. The new legislation is not, however, without limits. Possession is limited to 30 grams of raw cannabis, 500 mg of THC and 5 grams of cannabis in a concentrated form, according to the Marijuana Policy Project nonprofit. “Every state that has legalized cannabis has seen high demand and long lines in its earliest weeks, and to be sure, our state will too,” Pritzker said. “But unlike other states, in Illinois, we purposely built a system where the market has room to grow, so that entrepreneurs, including especially those from the communities devastated by the war on drugs, will have real opportunities in this industry.”

RELATED: Despite legalization, residents risk eviction over medical or recreational pot use in public housing

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who is up for reelection next year, praised the governor’s decision. “Today we took another step toward justice, as we continue to address the failed war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on communities of color,” Foxx said in the news release. “Clearing records under this revolutionary new law will not only open doors for thousands of families but will create stronger, safer communities as well.” Foxx said she is “proud to work alongside” Pritzker and other leaders to “make criminal justice reform a top priority in Cook County and across Illinois.”

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