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Free legal aid available to help expunge cannabis convictions, arrests in Illinois

Marijuana plant
Elsa Olffson/Flickr CC BY -NC-ND 2.0)

Illinois’ legalization of cannabis didn’t automatically clear records for those previously arrested or convicted marijuana violations. But the state created a process to offer support to get the records clear.

New Leaf Illinois, a state-funded network of 20 nonprofit legal aid and advocacy organizations, aims to clear past cannabis arrests and convictions for free. It was created to correct the unequal enforcement of old cannabis laws that disproportionately targeted communities of color.

An effort to spread the word comes on the heels of President Joseph Biden’s executive order that will pardon those with federal convictions for simple cannabis possession.

New Leaf partners aim to spread information about how to get records expunged with free legal aid resources.

According to New Leaf Illinois:
A two-year impact study on the organization's efforts on “cannabis expungement shows that free legal services have been provided in 79 of 102 counties in Illinois. To date, 311 cannabis convictions have been vacated and expunged and 183 non-conviction and other cannabis records have been expunged and sealed.

Attorney Beth Johnson, project manager for New Leaf Illinois, said, “The presidential pardons issued are an act of forgiveness and reconciliation of past harms and the barriers faced by people because of outdated, failed policies."

"Some cannabis records in Illinois fell under the automatic pardon and expungement process, but there are thousands more that did not and require a court filing. If you or your loved one wonder about the status of a past cannabis arrest or conviction or aren't sure how to approach the expungement process, reach out to New Leaf today," she added.

New Leaf helps people determine their eligibility for relief through an online registration portal www.newleafillinois.org or via phone at (855) 963-9532.

“Legal aid organizations within the New Leaf Illinois network provide free services in every region in Illinois,” according to a press release from the group.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and covering the equity beat. Maureen joined the Illinois Issues in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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