On New Year's Eve, Illinois Governor Pardons Over 11,000 Non-Violent Marijuana Offenses Hours Before State Legalizes Drug

More than 11,000 Illinoisans will have a happier new year, as Governor JB Pritzker has pardoned their marijuana convictions.

Speaking at a church in Chicago's South Side on Tuesday, Pritzker announced that he pardoned over 11,000 low-level, nonviolent marijuana convictions, clearing the records of thousands of misdemeanor offenses ahead of marijuana becoming legal in the state on January 1, 2020.

Pritzker said that such pardons will improve the convicted's chances at getting financial aid, jobs and housing. The expunged convictions are cases involving 30 grams or less of the drug, including possession, according to a press release from the Governor's office obtained by Newsweek.

Those who have been convicted of possessing 30 to 500 grams of the drug will be able to take their cases to court to clear their records, a step that legal aid organizations and local prosecutors may also undertake. An additional 34,000 records are eligible under this stricture to be cleared, according to the Associated Press.

Another 572,000 individuals will have five years to request their records be expunged of minor marijuana arrests which never resulted in a conviction. Only those convicted of violent marijuana-related offenses will not be eligible to have their records cleared.

There is a total of 700,000 records statewide which might be expunged under the new law.

It's the duty of the Illinois State Police to identify those eligible for expunging, then forwarding those records to Illinois' Prisoner Review Board. The review board then will forward the cases to Pritzker, who will authorize the pardons. The goal was to make the process as streamlined as possible, according to Illinois officials who spoke with the Associated Press.

JB Pritzker
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has pardoned over 11,000 non-violent marijuana convictions ahead of the drug becoming legal in the state on New Years' Day. Paul Natkin/Getty

"We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis," Pritzker said in a statement. "We are restoring rights to many tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core."

"We know that black Illinois residents are far more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana possession than whites," Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told the Associated Press. "This is a good step forward as we begin the legal sales of recreational marijuana."

"The 11,017 pardons that Gov. Pritzker is granting today are thousands of lives forever changed—and hundreds of thousands more will be changed in the coming months," former state senator Toi Hutchinson, currently working with Pritzker on his marijuana policy, concurred. "Those who were unfairly targeted by discriminatory drug laws can finally get ahead and build a new future for themselves and their families."

"This is Day One of the end of prohibition. This is not a finished product on Day One," said Representative Kelly Cassidy to the AP. Cassidy sponsored the legislation in the Illinois House.

More than 40 dispensaries have already been licensed by the state to sell marijuana, but officials warn consumers to expect long lines, as not all of the dispensaries will be in operation when the drug becomes legal.

Illinois will become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use for individuals 21 and older on Wednesday.