Illinois lawmaker hopes to expunge more marijuana arrest records by dropping drug test requirement
SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - An Illinois House Democrat hopes to help more people get previous cannabis charges expunged from their record. Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) says some still face a barrier because of the drug test required before expungement.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Illinois since January 1, 2020. One of the major components of the legalization law was the automatic expungement of nearly 500,000 marijuana arrest records. Although, some people are still waiting to have a clean slate today.
Ammons says people not eligible for expungement right now may be rejected because of marijuana found in their system. She hopes to remove cannabis testing from the requirement for expungement to help speed up the process. Ammons told the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee that many also end up paying an extra $75-$100 to take the drug test while people across the state can legally use cannabis.
“It’s not going the way this legislative body intended it to go,” said Mark Mitchell, an advocate with Teamwork Englewood. “It’s not happening in four months. It’s taking 18-19 months to get this done on the regular.”
Ammons is working with Carbrini Green Legal Aid on an amendment to specifically note that a petition for expungement cannot be denied because of a positive drug test. It would also block courts from denying expungement of someone testing positive.
“We just want to align this bill with what is happening by the billions of dollars in the state of Illinois,” Ammons said. “Cannabis should not be a barrier to expungement if it’s not a barrier to selling it.”
Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) said he believes the bill’s current language could be interpreted to expand the number of offenses eligible for expungement. Windhorst argues the bill could expand eligibility for people with any felony drug offenses, including the distribution of drugs.
“I understand the intent as it’s been laid out, but I think the bill goes much farther than that,” Windhorst said. “And I couldn’t obviously support expunging all those records.”
Still, Ammons said her proposal will only address the expungement of cannabis records. She emphasized that other drugs will not be added into the language with future amendments to this bill.
“In the future, I may come back to this committee to say that there’s a disparity in drug treatment testing. For instance, if I commit murder you don’t have to do a drug test of any kind before you are eligible for expungement or sealing,” Ammons said. “And think that that’s disproportionate and discriminatory, but I will work on that at a later time. What I’m working on today is strictly cannabis.”
House Bill 4392 passed out of the House Judiciary Criminal Committee Thursday on a partisan 11-8 vote. However, Ammons plans to hold the bill on second reading and bring it back to the committee when the amendments are ready.
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