In 2016, the state of Illinois debated the idea of legalizing cannabis – but in the end they settled on decriminalization. The bill that ended up being signed into law made 10 grams or less of marijuana a civil infraction, rather than a misdemeanor criminal offense, which negated jail time and replaced it with a fine ranging from $100-200. However, it did not specify what would happen to those who had been convicted of a marijuana possession charge that was prior to the implementation of the 2016 law.

It seems that they are aiming to fix this oversight this year, as State Representative La Shawn Ford introduced House Bill 2367, which would give those with convictions prior to decriminalization the option to ask a judge to have the conviction expunged. While it would not outright expunge records related to possession-only charges, it would give many the opportunity to have a clean record – but on a case-by-case basis.

“It seemed that that would be an appropriate thing to do so that people can get jobs and raise their family,” State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst said.

The bill also requires that the offense be three or more years prior to the law change. If you were convicted in Illinois after July 2013, then you would still have to wait a few years before the option to have the conviction expunged is available. It may not be a perfect system, but it is definitely a step above leaving thousands to deal with difficulty in finding jobs and housing due to cannabis convictions, especially when the law says their “crime” is no longer a crime.

Many places that have decriminalized or legalized cannabis have moved to throw out old cannabis-related convictions – especially those that were simple possession charges. San Francisco is working on throwing out convictions going back to 1975 without need for the individual to go before a judge. Colorado is also in the process of looking at those who have been convicted of cannabis-related crimes that were non-violent and possibly clearing their records as well.  

“If you’ve made a legislative determination that this is no longer criminal, why would you want to continue to have people feeling the ramifications of something that people going forward will no longer have to suffer?” said Jenny Roberts, an American University law professor.

Many are starting to realize that after decriminalization or legalization, there comes a new issue – those who were branded once as criminals are guilty of something that is no longer a crime, but they still carry a criminal record. Activists and researchers have pointed out that this means that a clause of some sort to expunge records should be a part of any legalization bill or initiative that is passed. Hopefully those drafting legislation and initiatives in the coming months and years will take this into consideration before making any final decisions.