Local law enforcement agencies are starting to feel the effects of cannabis misdemeanor expungements.
The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act provides multiple avenues to expunge convictions and arrest records for minor cannabis offenses. Statewide, there are more than 700,000 records that are now eligible for relief because of the law.
On the last day of 2019, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the first 11,017 residents who are to have records expunged for low level cannabis convictions in the state.
Local law enforcement agencies and ISP were instructed to automatically expunge arrest records that did not result in a conviction up to 30 grams, following legalization on January 1st.
Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll says that the term automatic expungement is not as easy as it sounds.
“So they refer to that as automatic expungement because the defendant does not have to do anything in order to get it expunged. It’s a process that the Illinois State Police, the Governor’s Office, and ultimately the Attorney General’s Office who will be filing the expungement paperwork with 102 counties including Morgan County.
So that will cover the vast majority of individuals that have plead guilty or were found guilty of minor of minor cannabis offenses. That won’t include everybody, there are certainty times that for whatever reason the supervision or the conviction wasn’t properly reported to the Illinois State Police, and therefore would not show up on an individual’s background check.”
Noll says that the automatic expungment term is a bit of a misnomer, in that it is actually a process requiring law enforcement agencies to comb through records of arrests and convictions.
“The first step of that is taking place, the Illinois State Police, it’s done through their records and they complied a list of everybody that was reported to them at least, who was convicted of or received supervision for a minor cannabis offense, and a minor cannabis offense in that statute is defined as class A, class B, or class C misdemeanor conviction or a class 4 felony conviction. Those details have been forwarded to the prisoner review board, and it is my understanding that there are about 120,000 different cases that they have come up with and forwarded to the prisoner review board.”
The Prisoner Review Board then goes through the information then recommends to the Governor’s Office, which of the 120,000 cases should be pardoned by Governor Pritzger and then expunged.
The leg work might start with the ISP, but local law enforcement agencies and municipalities have a large amount of work to do as well. Jacksonville Chief of Police Adam Mefford says that his department got a jump on the workload, but that combined with juvenile expungements that now need to be processed going back to 2010, the department is doing the work of another full time employee that they just don’t have.
“I understand the state’s position on expungement now that recreational cannabis is legal, but the time constraints that are put on the agencies sometimes to accomplish some of these things are just not feasible when you are talking about the amount of calls that have to be gone through, and then they have to be expunged, and then some have to have notification to the individual who’s record was expunged.
So if you tack that on top of the juvenile expungements that have to be done, right now we have to have the expungements done, back three years by the end of this year, and then by the end of 2022 we have to be back to 2010 on juvenile expungements, and then each year after that, they have to be done yearly. So right now we are inundated with the cannabis expungements, the juvenile expungements, and we are trying to do that through our records clerk and then my administrative assistant is also involved in that as well as our investigators. So, like I said before, we almost need another full time employee to handle it.”
Mefford said that as of right now, his department is doing fine with the extra log of work as they have been anticipating the work load coming and started organizing calls to the department accordingly to try and get ahead of the process.
Across Illinois, there are three more waves of expungement expected to take place over the next 5 years, guided by the statutory timeline of the new law.