Featuring Brandon Williams, Supervising Attorney at Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA).
Q: In our last interview, you mentioned that the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act “automatically” expunged a number of cannabis non-convictions and convictions. Can you explain further what this means?
Brandon Williams: The word “automatic” is kind of a misnomer because the process is not really automatic, especially compared to places like California where they’ve worked with groups like Code for America to automate the process.
A lot has to go into expunging a record in Illinois and, right now, the only process that’s automatic involves cannabis non-convictions—where someone was just arrested, released without charges, or the case was dismissed.
The Act automatically expunged law enforcement records, but not court records. Court records for cannabis non-convictions unfortunately were not included in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, so people still have to file a petition to expunge their court record. That’s a big distinction that most people may not know about.
Q: Could an amendment to the Act fix the law to include both law enforcement records and court records?
BW: Yes, it’s possible. Cabrini Green Legal Aid has already been working with legislators on how to close that loophole. And there are other loopholes in other parts of the expungement process in the Act that we’re trying to get covered as well.
Q: And can a person find out if their cannabis record was automatically expunged?
BW: That’s another good question. Right now, they really won’t know. Depending on what area you fall in regarding the expungement process for cannabis, the Illinois State Police are supposed to make available a court disposition record. But Illinois State Police don’t have those types of documents, so I’m not sure why that was written into the law.
There are two ways people can find out if their record was automatically expunged. They can contact their local County Clerk’s office at www.cookcountyclerkil.gov/contact-us to reach the Cook County Clerk’s office in English, Spanish, Mandarin, or Polish. Or, they can get a new copy of their criminal history transcript or RAP sheet. In Chicago, they can get their RAP sheet from the Chicago Police Department for $16. If the record has been expunged, it will not be reported on the RAP sheet.
Q: Does the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act automatically seal my record?
BW: Expungement is for non-convictions and sealing is for convictions. The automatic process the state police are supposed to take care of is for minor cannabis non-convictions.
For any minor cannabis convictions, on the other hand, the process is not automatic but the records can be expunged without the person having to take any action in one of two ways: One, the Illinois Prison Review Board will recommend a pardon for the cannabis conviction to Governor Pritzker. Once the Governor grants the pardon, the Attorney General will file a petition to expunge the conviction. Or, two, the local State’s Attorney’s office can file a Motion to Vacate and Expunge. Kim Foxx, Cook County’s State’s Attorney, has filed more than 1,000 Motions to Vacate and Expunge for some cannabis convictions and is scheduling scores more to be heard almost weekly. In addition, people with cannabis records can also file their own Motion to Vacate and Expunge.
If you want help figuring out which bucket you fall into, go to NewLeafIllinois.org to get connected with pro bono services that will help you move through the process.
This is a sponsored content series, paid for by Green Thumb Industries. Submit YOUR questions on expungement and record-sealing in Illinois to email@example.com. Learn more about Cabrini Green Legal Aid at www.CGLA.net and Code for America at www.codeforamerica.org.
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