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Legal Cannabis and Criminal Record Expungement in Illinois

How expungement works and how you can speed up the process

On January 1, 2020, the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act went into effect in Illinois. The bill, signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in mid-2019, allows Illinois residents 21 and older to legally possess small amounts of marijuana and marijuana-infused products. It also paved the way for the automatic expungement of infractions classified as “minor cannabis offenses”—meaning that there’s a way to have those offenses removed from your criminal record.

According to the state of Illinois, adults qualify for automatic expungement if they were arrested and not charged—or had those charges dismissed or were acquitted—for possessing or dealing 30 or fewer grams of cannabis prior to June 25, 2019. Those with convictions for minor cannabis offenses are also eligible, although the expungement process requires extra steps, including a review by the state’s Prisoner Review Board.

Illinois residents whose arrests occurred after 2013 were originally scheduled to have their records expunged by the start of 2021; those arrested between 2000 and 2012 were scheduled to have their records expunged by 2023; and those arrested before 2000 were scheduled to have their records expunged by 2025.

However, says Matthew M. Fakhoury, an Illinois-based criminal defense attorney and the founder of Xpunge Chicago, the large backlog of expungements in the system has slowed the process down. “Realistically, they're not doing it,” he says. “There are simply too many cases, and they simply don't have enough resources to do it swiftly.”

For those who don’t want to wait for the state to work through its backlog, an attorney can help them navigate the expungement process sooner than they’d be able to otherwise—“much sooner,” says Fakhoury. “I would encourage people to hire an attorney to expunge or seal those cannabis cases if they're still coming up on their record—if it's still affecting them.”

There are many reasons to pursue an expungement or sealing of a criminal record. For example, after a successful expungement, you may legally answer no when housing applications and job applications ask if you’ve ever been arrested.

For some, having a clean record is its own goal. “A lot of times people will just call me and say, ‘Hey, I want to get this record of mine expunged,’” says Fakhoury. “I ask, ‘What is the purpose? Are you looking to get a job?’ They say, ‘I'm just embarrassed. I have kids now. I'm trying to be their soccer coach, and I have to fill out this application with the school. I'm worried I'm going to get rejected because of this one case when I was 25 years old.’ And it's genuine. Somebody did something stupid when they were 23 or 25 and now it's haunting them and they should get it off their record if they can.”

He adds: “If they served their sentence—or if they did whatever the court required—and the case is over and done with, they have nothing else on their record, then I can't think of anybody more deserving than that.”

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of cannabis law and criminal record expungement.

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