2021 is starting off with a bang, at least so far as cannabis news goes. As 2020 whimpered to the finish line, a ruling by a New Mexico judge established a legal right for the incarcerated to access their cannabis medicine. And in Illinois—a state that made news earlier in the year by inaugurating a robust grant program designed to redress justice system excesses—the governor signed off on half a million (yes, you read that right) cannabis-related criminal record expungements.
Illinois Drops a Cannabis Records Expungement Bomb
There was actually a ball drop in Times Square this year, though the square itself was closed to pedestrian traffic. but Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Police dropped a ball of their own, so to speak, with the last-minute expungement of just over 501,000 cannabis-related criminal records. The actual breakdown consisted of the governor signing off on some 9,129 pardons for low-level charges while the ISP chipped in with 492,192 expungements.
Truth be told, the expungements didn’t exactly come out of the blue. Illinois’ adult-use cannabis law, which took effect on the first day of 2020, mandated that 47,000 records be expunged by the first day of 2021. But the deadline for the ISP’s expungement of the remaining total wasn’t till January 1, 2025, meaning the ISP completed the task four years ahead of schedule.
In a year of protracted and intense upheaval over the maltreatment by people of color at the hands of overzealous law enforcement, the push to accelerate cannabis-related expungements comes as welcome news.
Illinois Takes a Lead in Cannabis-Law Reform
While social-equity advocates point with frustration to the challenges facing people of color attempting to enter the cannabis industry, Illinois has emerged as something of a poster child for smart cannabis reform. While the state experiences many of the same disparities in minority ownership of cannabis businesses as others, pro-cannabis Governor Pritzker has made proactive steps like the early expungements a hallmark of his administration.
Illinois’ adult-use law, it should be noted, earmarks 25% of cannabis-derived revenues to communities deemed disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. As we reported last year, the state’s R3 grant program will funnel over $25 million to qualifying grantees in Q1 of 2021. As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, the state was on track to net $1 billion in cannabis sales by the close of 2020, with roughly $582 million of that being from adult-use cannabis.