Featuring Dina Rollman, SVP of Government & Regulatory Affairs at Green Thumb and Brandon Williams, Supervising Attorney at Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA).
Q: Before we get started, can you explain to readers why Green Thumb is presenting this new 13-part series on expungement and record-sealing in Illinois, and why you’ve asked Cabrini Green Legal Aid to help kick it off?
Dina Rollman: The Green Thumb team is very conscious of the fact that our business is built on a plant that plays a significant role in the racist impact of the war on drugs. A major component of the drug war continues to be that cannabis laws are enforced at much higher rates in minority and marginalized communities, despite the fact that all communities tend to use cannabis at about the same rate.
That said, we have made it a company priority to do our part to reverse the harms caused by the war on drugs. The first step in that process is to eliminate the barriers caused by a criminal record that results in part from living in communities where drug laws are enforced at disproportionate rates. The goal of this series is to educate and build awareness around the expungement and record-sealing mechanisms available in Illinois and to elevate the voices who are really doing great work in this space, like CGLA. We’re not the experts and don’t pretend to be, which is why we are so grateful to Brandon Williams, who is an expert, for being here to help us launch this Q&A series.
Q: Brandon, welcome, can you tell us a little bit about the work you do in this space?
Brandon Williams: Thanks, yes—I’m the supervising attorney for the criminal records program at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. There are over 44,000 collateral consequences to having a criminal record in Illinois. A cannabis record can create barriers to education, housing, employment, banking—you name it. That’s why CGLA provides legal assistance to individuals negatively impacted by the criminal justice system, including help getting records cleared or expunged.
Q: What is the difference between expunging and sealing a record, and how long does the entire process take?
BW: There is a distinction. Expungement is for non-convictions, and sealing is for convictions. An expunged record is erased completely, so nobody has access to it, and the law enforcement records are destroyed. Sealing hides your record from public view, essentially. If you get a case sealed, the only people who have access to it are law enforcement, or employers who are authorized by law to run fingerprint-based background checks.
It depends on what county you live in, but you normally can get your records expunged or sealed within 60-90 days. You file a petition, submit your paperwork, get your hearing date, have a hearing, have the order entered, etc. There’s a major backlog in Chicago right now, though.
Q: What is the very first step a person should take to begin the expungement or record-sealing process and how much money will it cost?
BW: First head to NewLeafIllinois.org to get connected to one of the 20 nonprofits that provide free legal representation. The next step will be to pull your RAP sheet—in Chicago, you’ll have to go to the police department headquarters and pay $16 for your Chicago RAP sheet and Illinois State Police report. If you want to go to a private entity, you can get fingerprinted at an agency, such as Livescan, and get your state police report and possibly your FBI report. That can cost around $60.
Q: What are some of the other ways Green Thumb is working to help folks clear their records?
DR: Well, CGLA was kind enough to take the time to train about 30 of our in-house attorneys and outside counsel volunteers to be able to assist individuals going through the process. What really motivated this series, though, is that we regularly support expungement and record-sealing initiatives and events. The challenge is that a lot of people leave these events frustrated because they arrive thinking they can show up to one event and walk away at the end of the day with a clear record. The fact of the matter, unfortunately, is that it’s not a one-and-done process. The more we can expose the entire process and resources available, the more we can maximize the impact we have in all of the other initiatives we take on.
Q: What can we expect in next week’s Q&A?
DR: The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act “automatically” expunged a number of cannabis non-convictions and convictions. We want to understand, and help readers understand, which records have been cleared and how they are supposed to know whether records have actually been removed.
Coming up: Automatic Expungement: Did the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act automatically expunge my cannabis record?
This is a sponsored content series, paid for by Green Thumb Industries. Have a question you want to see answered here? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Cabrini Green Legal Aid at www.CGLA.net.