As drug policy reforms take effect in Illinois with this year’s launch of legal recreational cannabis sales, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has set goals for the automatic expungement of convictions for low-level marijuana sales and possession of small amounts of hard drugs. Foxx shared her plans for further reform efforts in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times that was published on Monday.
Foxx said that currently, her office is busy processing automatic expungements for cases involving possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana, as mandated by the recreational cannabis bill passed into law by Illinois lawmakers in 2019. But she would also like to see convictions for selling 30 to 500 grams of cannabis expunged automatically. Those with such convictions are now required to petition the court to have their records cleared.
“We should also make it easier for those who had those sales convictions for higher amounts to also be able to have their convictions vacated automatically,” Foxx said.
“No, they didn’t have a license. And no, it wasn’t legal. But it was the only economy that they had,” she continued, adding that regulated cannabis businesses are now “doing the exact same thing and making a ton of money.”
Expungement Of Convictions For Hard Drugs Also On The Table
Foxx believes that drug policy reforms should not end with the changes to cannabis laws that went into effect this year. Instead, she sees reworking cannabis policy as a test case for broader reform to address the negative impacts of prohibition.
“What has been a long concern of mine … is other drugs that are still illegal, that are still being prosecuted, in some of these very neighborhoods that are being devastated by the war on drugs,” Foxx said. “And marijuana was but one of the drugs. It wasn’t the totality of the devastation.”
“I think this is the gateway conversation to deeper conversations around treating addiction as a public health issue and looking at the drug economy that has flourished in these neighborhoods while every other bit of economy has abandoned [them],” she said.
Foxx added that she would also support efforts to expunge convictions for possession of small amounts of hard drugs including cocaine and heroin if such changes were part of a larger and more progressive approach to drug use and addiction.
“If we recognize substance abuse disorder as a health condition, then we must modify our justice system to treat it as such,” Foxx said. “Criminalizing health is not in the interest of public safety.”
Ralph Weisheit, a professor of criminal justice at Illinois State University, said that Foxx’s vision aligns with nationwide trends, although he acknowledged that he is surprised at the pace of reform.
“It is clear that public support for harsh drug sentences is fading, and this is particularly true for minor possession and use cases,” Weisheit said. “Decriminalizing minor possession of hard drugs, as has happened in Oregon, is something I would not have predicted even five years ago.”
“That prosecutors would express any support for these changes is not something I would have expected,” Weisheit added. “Historically, prosecutors have not led the charge for decriminalization.”