Kim Foxx, one of Chicago’s top prosecutors, has teamed up with a nonprofit to expunge thousands of marijuana convictions in Cook County.
On Aug. 27, Foxx revealed that her office is in partnership with the San Francisco-based nonprofit, Code for America. This partnership aims to expunge several “minor cannabis convictions” in her jurisdiction. This announcement comes just months after the legalization of marijuana in the state of Illinois. As a result of this legalization, state attorneys and attorney generals will have the authority to expunge convictions such as “charges, arrests, and orders of supervision or qualified probation” in their various jurisdictions.
This effort falls under the state attorney, and its main aim is to address social justice. It will serve as a reflection of the work that has taken place in several California counties via the nonprofit. In California, there has been the identification of not less than 67,000 convictions as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Foxx said that Code for America would provide and make use of a digital system that will tackle the task in a fraction of the time taken by Democrats to go through decades of pot convictions and arrests. “The innovation that Code for America brings to this work by being able to easily process this information, identify eligibility, populate forms with that information, and generate the necessary documents will allow us to provide conviction relief, we think, in a really timely fashion,” she said.
“When it was time to, in essence, flip the switch, we didn’t want to be like other jurisdictions who were months and years out, trying to figure out how to provide relief,” Foxx said. She implied that she has been working for months on this initiative.
At this point, there exists 770,000 estimated marijuana convictions that can be expunged, although there is no clarity on the number from Cook County.
The technology used to expunge cases will notify individuals whose records have been erased via mail. This process will start as early as 2021, and the most recent will be handled first, i.e., cases from 2013 to 2021. Cases from 2000 to 2012 will be expunged later, i.e. by 2023.
However, the software will not automatically expunge offenses that are tied to other charges, as stated by Jennifer Pahlka, executive director and founder of Code for America.
Even though Code for America provides its services free of charge, taxpayers will have to take care of other administrative costs, such as mailing.
“In weighing the benefits of this—the ability for people who can have their records vacated and expunged to be able to find employment and housing and other things that will allow them to be contributing, taxpaying members of Cook County—is pretty significant,” Foxx said.
Kevin Sabet, the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, however, raised concerns that Foxx was pushing it too far. Smart Approaches to Marijuana is an advocacy group in Virginia, which was against the legalization of pot in Illinois and nationwide.
“Reasonable reform should be applauded and diversion programs make sense, but I wouldn’t necessarily tell all the drug dealers in Illinois that it’s open season,” he said. “It seems to defeat the whole purpose of saying you want regulation if you’re not going to enforce any rules.”