Cook County State’s Attorney Aims to Start Cannabis Conviction Expungements

Criminal justice reform is on its way in Cook County.
Cook County State's Attorney Aims to Start Cannabis Conviction Expungements

Kim Foxx, the Illinois State’s Attorney for Cook County, said last week that her office will begin the expungement of misdemeanor cannabis convictions in the coming months. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Foxx said that prosecutors were considering expungement of convictions for marijuana sales and are still working to determine the scope of the project.

“The question is, how far back can we go? How far back does the data go — which will give us what our universe looks like? But we’re in the process of figuring that out,” said Foxx.

In a speech to the City Club of Chicago in January, Foxx said that she supported the drive to legalize cannabis in Illinois and said that her office would  “pursue the expungement of all misdemeanor marijuana convictions.”

Foxx said that she hopes to work with the nonprofit group Code for America to analyze conviction records and identify those cases that qualify for expungement. Earlier this year, Code for America worked with the San Francisco District Attorney to clear more than 8,000 cannabis convictions going back to 1975. This month, the group said that 54,000 more cannabis convictions would be expunged or reduced in Los Angeles and San Joaquin counties.

Code for America “can help us find some infrastructure support of being able to look at the [Cook County] clerk’s office, Dorothy Brown’s office, to be able to identify batches of people who are found or convicted of the statutory code for possession of marijuana,” said Foxx.

The State’s Attorney’s office is also beginning to explore the expungement of convictions for selling cannabis.

“The next iteration of this is looking at those sales,” she said, especially “in light of the fact that legalization looks like it’s becoming apparent. We don’t want to be on the back end of trying to figure out what to do.”

She said that police continue to make arrests for minor marijuana offenses despite a 2015 announcement that they would no longer be prosecuted. Foxx hopes that expunging past convictions would help get out the message that “we’re not doing this” anymore.

“So hopefully, we’re seeing that fall off,” Foxx said.

Cops Oppose Expungement Plan

Kevin Graham is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, a union that represents more than 10,000 police officers in Chicago. He said in an email that his members do not support the expungement of past convictions.

“Even if the law changes, that does not change the fact that these people knew they were breaking the law, were arrested and convicted once again disregarding the hard work of police officers, who may have been injured while apprehending these offenders,” Graham said.

Graham said that officers in the union “will only enforce the laws that are on the books” and said that prosecutors should do the same.

“If the laws change that is up to law makers [sic] and the Governor, but it is not up to the Cook County States [sic] Attorney,” he said.

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