New Statewide Resource for Clearing Cannabis Convictions
February 22, 2021
New Leaf Illinois, a program through the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, is a network of 20 organizations ready to provide free legal and advisory services to help people wipe clean their complete cannabis convictions. This resource was made possible by specific funding requirements of the 2019 Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.
“Communities of color have borne the impact of the discriminatory enforcement of the four-decade long war on drugs,” said Gray Mateo-Harris, IEJF board member and partner at Fox Rothschild LLP. “While people of all races illegally grew, smoked and sold marijuana, it was Black and Brown people who were much more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for it.”
“At the heart of our cannabis legalization effort was the concept of a three-legged stool—representing restoration, reinvestment and inclusion,” said Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-14), one of the lead sponsors of the 2019 cannabis legalization legislation. “Expungement for those with previous cannabis records is a key element of this new path forward. And the New Leaf Illinois program is helping to embody these principles by working to restore communities who’ve been hit hardest by the war on drugs, reinvest in individuals who continue to be unfairly punished by past convictions, and include everyone, especially those who have been historically marginalized and shut out.”
New Leaf Illinois helps people determine their eligibility for relief through an easy-to-use online portal: www.newleafillinois.org. Legal aid organizations within the New Leaf Illinois network will provide free services to income-level qualifying individuals in every region in Illinois.
In 2019, Illinois legalized cannabis possession and consumption. One component of legalization was to recognize and rectify the damage caused by the decades-long war on drugs and how it disproportionately impacted communities of color and the economically disenfranchised. As part of this policy change, the state created a pathway for individuals previously arrested and convicted of cannabis violations to have their records expunged. Expungement refers to the clearing or removal of a person’s arrest, charges or criminal convictions from public view.
Most of the estimated 778,000 cannabis convictions in Illinois are eligible for automatic expungement by law enforcement and the pardon process.
But there are an estimated 71,000 criminal records on file that do not qualify for automatic expungement, and that’s where New Leaf comes in. At no cost, New Leaf can assist with the process of petitioning to a judge, who will then decide on expungement on a case-by-case basis.
There has been some confusion around what expungement means and in which records expungement is applicable (police, the courts or FBI). New Leaf can help offer clarity on an individual’s record status, and work to expunge their complete cannabis record.
A criminal record can negatively impact one’s financial well-being, job opportunities, educational prospects and other areas of life, but New Leaf Illinois can help state residents turn over a new leaf in their lives today.
The New Leaf Illinois organizations are: