In the final weeks of session, Illinois lawmakers will consider a critical bill that would not only legalize the possession and sale of specified amounts of recreational marijuana, but would also automatically expunge conviction records for certain cannabis related offenses. By clearing criminal histories for an estimated 800,000 residents, SB 7 would undertake tangible steps towards achieving racial equity, justice and opportunity in Illinois.
Earlier this week, the politically powerful Illinois State's Attorneys Association (ISAA) voiced sharp opposition to the bill's crucial automatic expungement provision. In the following days, a representative from the Governor's office indicated at a legislative hearing that Pritzker would be willing to negotiate on the record clearing measure in order to advance cannabis legalization this session. Without a guarantee of conviction expungement, the recreational marijuana legalization bill would extend a hollow offer to the millions of Illinois residents directly impacted by the devastating and racially targeted war on drugs.
ISAA claims that the automatic expungement clause in the current marijuana legalization bill establishes a separation of powers violation, falsely asserting that the provision would unconstitutionally confer the governor's exclusive pardon rights upon the state legislature. However, SB 7 in no way authorizes the Illinois General Assembly to grant pardons. Rather, by passing the bill, the legislature would simply exercise its rightful authority to revise the state's legal code. In recent years, Illinois lawmakers enacted multiple amendments to the Criminal Identification Act, which governs state expungement policy, including the adoption of a similar automatic record clearing clause in 2016.
For decades, ISAA has relentlessly campaigned to obstruct criminal justice reform and propagate a regressive theory of public safety that relies on aggressive law enforcement and draconian sentencing practices. This misguided approach has only served to systematically undermine safety and liberation for communities of color. Indeed, county prosecutors across the Illinois have played an instrumental role in propelling the state's inhumane and racially targeted practice of mass incarceration.
No single piece of legislation can undo the far-reaching devastation unleashed by decades of predatory policing and overly punitive sentencing laws. And in fact, SB 7 would only moderately advance racial justice in Illinois, as the policy addresses just a limited number of minor cannabis offense categories and falls far short of enacting retroactive resentencing reform. However, the automatic expungement provision would remove barriers to employment, education and housing for hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans. WCRJ believes that passage of the entire bill - along with meaningful reform of toxic law enforcement practices, retroactive resentencing and racially equitable economic investment - is imperative in order to foster safety, opportunity and liberation for people of color across the state.
We've made it super easy to send a one-click, prewritten message urging Governor Pritzker, members of the Senate Executive Committee, and the Illinois State's Attorney Association President to support automatic expungement of cannabis related charges.