The Legalization of Marijuana is Finally Here! Update: Governor Pardons Over 11,000 Low-Level Convictions

close-up-photo-of-kush-on-glass-container-1466335On New Year’s Eve, the night before the long-anticipated legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Illinois, Governor Pritzker pardoned over 11,000 people with low-level marijuana convictions. Illinois is the first state to include a process for those previously convicted of marijuana possession to seek relief upon the legalization of marijuana. The linked article explains the difference between a pardon and expungement in further detail, but the essential difference is that a pardon forgives the conviction while an expungement erases all record of it from the public record.  If you have a criminal record that you would like to have removed from your record, please contact us here at LauraLaw and one of our attorneys will be happy to help you navigate that process.

As various news channels reported, there were people camped out all night in front of the dispensaries waiting for them to open with the legalization of marijuana on New Year’s Day. Officials say that demand far outweighs the current supply, especially given that more dispensaries have yet to open and the patchwork of towns/villages/cities that allowed dispensaries, those that did not, and those that decided to have their own city referendum on the legalization of marijuana in November.

Here at LauraLaw we have written extensively on the legalization of marijuana over the past few years. If you have any legal needs surrounding the legalization of marijuana, do not hesitate to contact us. The intersection of existing laws with the legalization of marijuana will undoubtedly be heavily litigated over the next few years and having an experienced attorney looking out for your rights will be very important to your successful navigation of those laws.  The DUI drug law in and of itself is a minefield of issues and the science of testing a “high” driver has not yet caught up to the legalization of marijuana. With that being said, it is important to remember that although Illinois has passed the legalization of marijuana, it is still illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana. The evolving issue in this area is the development of the technology to determine whether the driver was impaired and drove (illegal) or whether the driver ingested cannabis at some earlier time-up to 28 days earlier as marijuana can stay in the system for up to a month. The rules around determining the level of impairment and the training provided to officers in detecting impairment are continuing to develop and have lagged behind the legalization of marijuana so we expect that they will be refined in the Court.

For a comprehensive discussion of all things related to the legalization of marijuana, including the locations of dispensaries, this month’s Chicago Magazine has devoted the entire issue to the legalization of marijuana. It’s a very interesting read!

To me personally, the legalization of marijuana is incredibly historic. At the age of 62, I’m at the tail end of the Boomer generation and, frankly, I never thought I would see the day when Illinois would legalize marijuana. Then, when 86% of the voting population voted for the advisory referendum I realized the legalization of marijuana may happen in my lifetime. As a criminal and administrative lawyer, I saw first-hand how terrible the medical cannabis laws were in Illinois even five or six years back. Back then, one guy decided on his own what medical conditions qualified and neither chronic cancer pain nor PTSD was on that list.  It was not until some courageous Judges in the Chancery Division ruled otherwise that those conditions were added, but the application process has not gotten much easier.

A few weeks ago, Governor Pritzker signed various amendments to the legalization of marijuana law as outlined below. The mid-December amendments followed municipality focused debates. If you head over to Julie Tappendorf’s fabulous blog Municipal Minute, she has documented most of the important amendments and their effects on municipalities. A few of the most important amendments include follow-ups on expungement promises, tax-based changes, and clarifications on employee-and-employer conduct within law enforcement agencies and in the general work-place. One new portion of the amended bill requires courts to provide certificates of disposition to individuals granted an automatic expungement. These expungements should help those individuals who have been negatively affected by punishments because of cannabis-based offenses in efforts such as job searching opportunities and as well in their daily life as a whole. Enforcement on cannabis-based offenses was biased as well; African Americans have been more likely to see repercussions for its use. Thus the expungement portion of this bill is partially focused on amending the consequences that disparate impact of law enforcement had on many neighborhoods and individuals of color. In regards to state finances, municipalities and counties will now see earlier returns on sales taxes from cannabis dispensaries. The new resolution has pushed forward the date when collection on those taxes can begin from September 1st to July 1st.

The trailer bill also provides a wide range of cannabis-based acts that employers can prohibit and punish in public sector jobs such as the fire fighting and police departments. Possession, consumption, sales, purchase, and delivery of Cannabis on or off duty may result in disciplinary action within the employer’s discretion unless specifically outlined in a department’s collective bargaining agreement. In non-public workplaces, employers are provided certain discretion over their employees’ behavior with regards to cannabis. Random non-discriminatory drug tests on employees are allowed by the bill along with the right of employers to discipline employees for being high on the job.

It’s pretty clear that the legalization of marijuana will not have the immediate effect of reducing court cases involving marijuana – in fact, it seems like it might increase litigation. If you should find yourself on any end of that litigation, it is important that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights and help you navigate the complexities of the legal system. Whether you are an employer or employee, you are under arrest, or you need to take another look at your expungement rights, do not hesitate to contact LauraLaw – one of our experienced attorneys will be happy to help. In the meantime, enjoy the legalization of marijuana, be safe, don’t drive high, and stay tuned to this blog and local news outlets for the latest on the legalization of marijuana in Illinois.

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