Illinois Legalizes Marijuana, Expunges Criminal Records, Puts “Minorities” First In Line for Marijuana Business Licenses
The state of Illinois has forged ahead of all other states which are attempting to finally end the disastrous War on Drugs. Decriminalization and medicinal use of marijuana have been in effect for some time in Illinois. But efforts to bite the bullet and fully legalize the drug have been hampered by skittish Republican legislators and moralizing GOP governors in the recent past.
But Illinois’ rookie Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker has not only signed a bill legalizing recreational use and possession of marijuana, but the same bill expunges convictions for marijuana use/possession of up to thirty grams for almost 315,000 people who face nearly 800,000 marijuana cases.
Set to take effect on January 1, 2020, unlike any other laws or proposals anywhere else, HB 1438 makes the specific point of opening Illinois’ budding (pun very much intended) marijuana industry to those folks who have traditionally been most harmed by America’s racist drug laws. That means black and brown people.
Specifically, the new law legalizes the use of cannabis in the state by residents 21 and over. As stated, about 315,000 Illinois residents with about 770,000 marijuana cases will become eligible after January 1 to have their records expunged, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group.
Illinoisans who were charged with possession of under 30 grams of marijuana (a little more than an ounce) prior to legalization will have their records automatically expunged, if and only if no violence was associated with their drug convictions. This means that these people will not even have to go to court to secure the expungements. The courts themselves will do it for them.
However, those convicted of possessing amounts between 30 and 500 grams (roughly one pound) will be required to petition the court on an individual, case-by-case basis.
But here is the innovative, if long overdue, part of this law — the part that puts meat on the bones of the term “restorative justice”: Not only will individuals’ records be expunged, but something called the “social equity” component of the law is meant to incentivize individuals and whole communities who and which have been disproportionately impacted by the war on this plant. (Actually, of course, there never was a “War on Drugs.” No. It was always a war on black and brown people).
That means these individuals, community organizations, and even socially conscious nonprofits, will be moved to the head of the line and allowed to apply for business licenses to grow, distribute and sell marijuana. There is no word yet as to whether the state will assist people and organizations financially in terms of loans, grants, etc. for start-up or maintenance costs. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if such provisions are in the law as well.
State Senator Toi Hutchinson, a co-sponsor of the bill, had this to say about this aspect of the new law: “The most historic aspect of this [law] is not just that it legalizes cannabis for adults, but rather the extraordinary efforts it takes to reduce the harm caused by the failed war on marijuana and the communities it hurt the most.”
The Marijuana Policy Project seconds that emotion: “[This law is] one of the most sweeping criminal justice reforms so far in the cannabis movement.”
Another perhaps unexpected “side effect” of the legalization of weed is this: The gangbangers and street corner hustlers of marijuana throughout Illinois’ urban landscapes (Rockford, Peoria, Aurora…and Chicago!) will soon be out of business! After the New Year, why go to war over drug turf or drug profits when folks will be able to go to the corner “Mom & Pop” dispensary and buy government inspected and approved marijuana? Hopefully, this will put a serious crimp in the bloody carnage and daily body count for which Chicago has become so famous — strike that, infamous.
But we must not get carried away with this good news, though. This law is only a first step — a significant step, to be sure, but still just a beginning. How many thousands, if not millions, of lives have been ruined since these draconian drug laws first took hold back in the 1930’s? Look, it was, after all in 1914 when the very first law, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, was enacted. Even that effort was race-based . It was passed in order to curb the use, possession and sale of opium (heroin) and coca leaves (cocaine) among Chinese immigrants, who were falsely accused of lusting after white women. Sound familiar? Both opium (heroin) and cocaine were perfectly legal until then and were even openly sold over-the-counter as cure-alls for everything from “high blood,” “low blood,” “nerves,” gout, and what today is called depression, etc., ad infinitum. Indeed, what do you think the “coca” in Coca-Cola refers to?
Thus, it may take another 75 to 100 years to correct…or dare I say it, repair all of the damage the so-called War on Drugs has wrought on black and brown people throughout this nation-state.