Lawmakers in Illinois approved a bill that would prohibit state courts from denying a request to seal or expunge an individual’s cannabis-related criminal record on the basis of a positive THC test. The measure now awaits the signature of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Under Illinois’s current marijuana laws, persons petitioning the courts to have a qualifying cannabis conviction expunged are required to submit a negative drug test, including for marijuana, from a sample taken within the past 30 days. The approved legislation – HB 4392 – would remove this requirement from the state’s Criminal Identification Act.
“[T]he court shall not deny a petition to expunge or seal … because the petitioner has submitted a drug test taken within 30 days before the filing … that indicates a positive test for the presence of cannabis within the petitioner’s body,” the text of the measure reads.
The legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Carole Ammons (D), said the reform would close “an existing loophole” that continues to punish Illinoisans for using a substance that has been legal in the state for more than two years.
In 2019, Illinois became the first state in the US to legalize recreational cannabis possession and sales through the legislature, rather than a voter-approved ballot initiative. Gov. Pritzker then signed a separate bill into law that provides for automatic expungement of low-level cannabis possession convictions up to 30 grams, while those convicted of possessing more than this amount up to 500 grams are able to petition the courts to have the record expunged. Since this bill entered into law, Pritzker’s administration has overseen the expungement of more than 500,000 marijuana convictions.
Commenting on the latest reform to expungements in Illinois, NORML’s deputy director Paul Armentano described the bill as “a common sense fix,” adding that residents “should not be penalized simply because they have recently engaged in behavior that is now perfectly legal under state law.”
Illinois is far from the only state that has legalized cannabis which is now looking to either expunge or seal marijuana-related criminal records. In the past few months, state and local officials across the US are estimated to have granted clemency to more than two million people with such convictions.
The criminal justice reform is proving popular with the public as well, with a recent YouGov survey revealing 57 percent of adults in the US support expungement of non-violent, cannabis-related criminal records.
Another marijuana-related bill in Illinois is having a more difficult time in the legislature. The House of Representatives recently approved an employment protection bill that would prohibit employers in the state from sanctioning workers or discriminating against applicants on the basis of out-of-work marijuana use.
After clearing the House in a 61-41 vote, the measure stalled in the Senate which is now adjourned for the session.