This step toward decriminalization is not new in Illinois. Many local municipalities, including Chicago, already have directives in place for their police departments to issue tickets for small cannabis possession, rather than arresting the offender. However, those ordinance violations, despite intending to “decriminalize,” still do in fact create criminal records for the defendants. Not only are the ordinance violations visible to the public just like any other criminal charge, but a conviction for it can undermine a person’s eligibility to expunge another case, even if that other case would otherwise be eligible to expunge.
Where this bill is truly different though is that it proposes to also change the Criminal Identification Act, which establishes the laws for expunging and sealing criminal records in Illinois. If it becomes law, the bill would make courts and police agencies expunge the tickets from their records automatically every six months. This is a major shift in treatment for these types of cases. No other adult records in Illinois (criminal cases or ordinance violations) automatically expunge. Even if you are arrested by mistake and released right away, you must still petition the court to expunge the case from the police records.
By automatically expunging the records, the Illinois legislature is essentially saying that they are not concerned with repeated cannabis violators. In fact, the idea may be to account for them as a tax on cannabis use over its prohibition. Regardless, this bill would certainly lead to fewer criminal records for people doing something that is quickly trending toward acceptable in Illinois and the United States.