New statewide network helps get marijuana convictions expunged
Illinois' legalization of cannabis earlier this year means people with arrests or convictions for lower-level marijuana offenses can have their records expunged.
While misdemeanor arrests (for the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana or the sale of up to 10 grams) that did not result in conviction are eligible for automatic expungement through the Illinois State Police, other records require more effort. That's where New Leaf Illinois comes in.
Funded by in part by taxes generated from the sale of legal marijuana, New Leaf is a network of 20 legal aid organizations from around the state. A project of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, New Leaf launched Thursday to provide free legal advice to those seeking to erase marijuana convictions from their records.
The idea is to help people start fresh, especially "Black and brown people who've been disproportionately penalized" by the criminalization of marijuana, Gray Mateo-Harris, a labor and employment attorney and an Illinois Equal Justice Foundation board member, said during a news conference Thursday.
Legal aid organizations participating in the New Leaf network include: Evanston's Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, Illinois Legal Aid Online, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, the Greater Chicago Legal Clinic and First Defense Legal Aid, among others.
"This is a starting point," said state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat and an expungement advocate who described it as a "life-changing tool."
About 770,000 records are eligible for expungement, according to Illinois Equal Justice Foundation representatives who note that number refers to records, not individuals, because some people might have more than one marijuana-related charge.
Those seeking expungement assistance can call New Leaf at (885) 963-9532 or fill out a form at newleafillinois.org. A legal aid representative will evaluate the applicant's eligibility and contact him or her. Legal services are free for those who qualify. Those whose income level doesn't qualify them for free assistance will receive referrals for legal services.