New Leaf Illinois announces grants for 18 organizations helping expunge cannabis records
SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation is awarding more than $1.4 million in grants to 18 organizations across the state to help expunge cannabis records. Expungement was a key factor when Illinois legalized recreational cannabis products in 2019.
New Leaf Illinois says the funding will help legal aid groups represent people in court. Community outreach groups in areas most affected by the failed War on Drugs also plan to use this funding to educate people about the expungement process.
“This year’s grant disbursements will provide resources to organizations that are making a real difference in communities statewide,” said Beth Johnson, the project manager for New Leaf Illinois. “I am excited to see the continued progress our grantee organizations will make in pursuit of widespread cannabis equity.”
The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation created New Leaf Illinois to address the state’s previous drug laws that disproportionately impacted communities of color.
Executive Director Leslie Corbett said 80% of the people they have helped have far more charges than cannabis violations.
“It’s a broader issue than cannabis,” Corbett said. “But cannabis is really a gateway drug and sadly a gateway path to a criminal record.”
She hopes New Leaf Illinois can further expand to help treat the “whole individual” and have a larger impact on disadvantaged communities.
The process for cannabis expungement was delayed while courts were closed early into the COVID-19 pandemic. However, leaders said the process is going much smoother now.
“In some ways, it could be a deterrent for folks because they kind of think, ‘What’s the rush? I’m just going to get in line.’ But, truthfully, that is the rush because if you’re not in line it’s still going to take longer,” Corbett said.
The 18 organizations working under New Leaf Illinois have already helped 1,700 people with legal counseling and filling out forms for expungement this year. Corbett explained New Leaf Illinois has also represented and expunged over 300 cannabis cases for people with multiple criminal records over the past two years.
“It really moves the ball for forgotten communities and forgotten individuals who’ve really paid the price. We know that cannabis now is a big business and plenty of people are profiting off of it,” Corbett said. “Certain communities certainly didn’t profit in that same way. Having it written into the Illinois legislation, I think, is all the difference.”
Illinois saw $445.3 million in tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales in Fiscal Year 2022. That was a 50% increase in total tax reported on adult-use marijuana sales during Fiscal Year 2021. Cannabis sales exceeded $1.5 billion during Fiscal Year 2022.
“Illinois has done more to put justice and equity at the forefront of this industry than any other state in the nation and has worked to ensure that communities hurt by the war on drugs have had the opportunity to participate,” said Gov. JB Pritzker. “The $1.5 billion in sales of adult-use cannabis in Illinois translates into significant tax revenue with a portion of every dollar spent being reinvested in communities that have suffered for decades.”
New Leaf Illinois is currently a five-year pilot program receiving funding through budget appropriations for the Illinois Attorney General’s office. The state has also awarded $113.5 million in grants through the Restore, Reinvest, and Renew program. This R3 program uses taxes from cannabis sales to invest in underserved communities impacted by gun violence, unemployment, imprisonment, child poverty, and the War on Drugs.
“These much-needed resources for communities impacted by the drug war are the exact reason why policymakers who understand the pain and trauma being experienced by communities is vital,” said Rep. Jehan Gordon Booth (D-Peoria). “This isn’t just happening. These directed resources were the result of intentional policy decisions to begin repairing harm. But this is just the beginning. I am eager to see newly licensed Black businesses get a slice of the pie.”
If you or someone you know needs help with cannabis expungement, go to newleafillinois.org or call 855-963-9532. The expungement program is free of charge and accessible in English and Spanish.
Copyright 2022 WGEM. All rights reserved.