New Leaf in Illinois turns tax dollars into expunged cannabis records

Published Nov 30, 2020 02:00 p.m. ET
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Many places worldwide have openly accepted cannabis legalization as the new normal, raking in millions of dollars every year. Yet, thousands of people who reside in legal regions still struggle due to a lingering drug charge weight. This can get in the way of employment opportunities and other aspects of life, as the plant still carries a stigma, something that activists, consumers, and anyone who is pro-pot agrees must change.

Unfortunately, until the legalization of cannabis makes it to the federal level, there will be no sweeping initiative to speed up the expungement process for individuals charged with offences that would be legal actions today, but in some states like Illinois, this brand new market's proceeds are helping to work towards a solution. The 2019 Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act expunged minor criminal records and set aside a fund for those with more complicated charges.

What is New Leaf?

The state-funded initiative New Leaf Illinois was launched on Thursday, November 19th, by the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF). Connecting residents of the state who want marijuana-related arrests removed from their criminal records with twenty local nonprofit agencies can provide legal representation and guidance through the expungement process either free or at a reduced cost.

How it works

The IEJF distributes funds taken by the government to support legal aid programs that are low or no cost, and some of that money comes from the legislated cannabis tax. This money is provided to New Lead organizations through grants. This year alone has $1.46million being funnelled through 20 various member organizations, and the remainder will be used to administer the expungement assistance program.

Progress

According to recent estimates, approximately 700 000 residents of Illinois are eligible for expungement of marijuana offences through the automatic qualifiers or the longer court filed path. In both cases, the expungement process must be carried out by criminal justice officials and the Illinois State Police, and applications to trigger the start of this can be tricky to navigate, leaving a significant volume of expugnable offences logged and on the books

We are slowly but surely making progress towards a freer tomorrow where Americans are no longer adversely impacted due to a criminal charge for cannabis. Still, there is only so much money dedicated to this, so it will be a long, arduous journey before seeing the benefits of programs like that of Green Leaf. It's important, and some would even argue essential work, but it's going to take time and patients to undo the damage done.

The struggle is real

Cannabis might be legal, and in this state, a cannabis tax can help to right some of the wrongs where pot-related punishments and charges are concerned. Still, in the meantime, thousands of individuals are struggling to do things like finding housing, getting an education, or obtaining meaningful employment. Legalization made waves, but the remnants of the past still surround us, and it's up to the government and the people to take action so that those who are most heavily impacted can move forward towards a brighter tomorrow.

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