Jim Rowe

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe

KANKAKEE — Many low-level marijuana convictions in Kankakee County have been expunged as part of the state’s Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act of 2019.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said the state expunged the majority of the convictions effective Dec. 31, 2020.

On that day, Gov. JB Pritzker issued 9,219 pardons for low-level marijuana convictions. He also announced the Illinois State Police had expunged all eligible records at the state level for marijuana related arrests.

Since the act’s passage, the governor has issued pardons in 20,236 marijuana cases.

“We have processed nearly 2,000 expungements and sealing petitions over the last few years as we were ahead of the game, we beat the state to the punch,” Rowe said.

“Going forward, when someone applies to expunge or seal any eligible offense, including those cannabis-related convictions that are eligible for expungement under the law, we do not object.”

Rowe said the Kankakee County Circuit Clerk’s office has been instrumental in the effort as has Judge Kathy Bradshaw Elliott, who hears the majority of such petitions.

Pritzker said in a press release dated Dec. 31 that state police had expunged 492,129 non-felony marijuana-related arrests records in the state database.

Those expungements will also be mirrored in local law enforcement agencies, he said.

The act mandated 47,000 cannabis-related arrest records between 2013 and 2019 be expunged by Jan. 1, 2021.

Illinois counties have until Jan. 1, 2025, to expunge all eligible arrest records.

“As we near the end of the first year of Illinois’ new legal cannabis industry, I am heartened by the progress we have made toward undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs,” said Toi Hutchinson, Pritzker’s senior marijuana advisor.

Before Pritzker named Hutchinson to the post, she represented the 17th District in the State Senate, which includes Kankakee County.

“Eleven states in the nation have legalized cannabis for recreational use, but no other state has done the important work we’re doing here in Illinois, where equity intentionality takes center stage,” Hutchinson said.

How it works

The 2019 legalization act created three groups of marijuana-related records eligible for some type of expungement. The first two groups are eligible for automatic expungement, meaning no action is required on behalf of the affected party, while the third group requires a court petition to start the expungement process.

ISP’s completed arrest record expungement and the corresponding record purge ongoing at the local level are part of the first group. Eligible records for expungement in this category are arrests for possession under 30 grams or less that occurred before June 25, 2019. The arrest must not have resulted in charges, or if it did, those charges were dropped, dismissed, resulted in acquittal, or resulted in qualified probation that has been completed.

This automatic expungement only occurs in law enforcement databases. To remove all mentions of the arrest from court records, a motion must be filed by the defendant in the court where the charges were brought.

Arrests for minor marijuana offenses that were tied to a violent or sexual crime are also not eligible for expungement. Neither are arrests for delivery on school grounds, trafficking or possession of marijuana plants.

Records available for automatic expungement in the second group go through a six-step process that includes a pardon from the governor, such as the ones issued Thursday. These are convictions for low-level misdemeanors that occurred before June 25, 2019, such as possession of 30 grams or less, or the sale of marijuana up to 10 grams.

Eligible convictions are first compiled by state police and delivered to the Prisoner Review Board. If a conviction was for a Class 4 felony, the state’s attorney for the jurisdiction in which that conviction took place can object to the case being eligible for expungement, which is then resolved in a hearing.

The PRB will then recommend eligible convictions to the governor for a pardon. The governor then decides whether to accept or deny the recommendation. Pardons issued by the governor are given to the Illinois attorney general, in this case Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who then files a request with the circuit clerk where the conviction occurred to expunge the record. The circuit clerk then expunges the record and sends an order to law enforcement to expunge records related to the conviction as well.

According to PRB Chair Craig Findley, the board expects to review “thousands of additional felony and misdemeanor” marijuana offenses in 2021.

The third and final group of records eligible for expungement are not subject to an automatic process, but require a court petition filed by the convicted party. These are for marijuana offenses that do not qualify for the previous two groups.

Capitol News Illinois contributed to this story.

Reporter

Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is jbonty@daily-journal.com.