Illinois recently became the 11th state in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana sales and use. In the state, advocates for cannabis have been working to ensure social justice measures were included in the legislation. Illinois, with its more than 12 million residents, is the second-most populous state to legalize recreational cannabis use, only behind California.

Now, with the signing of the law by governor J.B. Pritzker, the focus is on the creation of a system for taxing and regulating cannabis sales, expected to begin January 1.

The law, HB 1438 (Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act), not only legalized cannabis use for people ages 21 and older, but it also included criminal justice reforms. Specifically, for adults ages 21 and older, it will be legal to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of concentrated cannabis or up to 500 milligrams of products infused with THC.

The law that legalizes recreational marijuana use also provides relief to people with offenses related to marijuana on their criminal records. This relief affects an estimated 770,000 people in Illinois, and it’s possible as much as 70% of those are from Cook County.

The law, which will take effect in 2020, allows people automatic clemency for convictions involving up to 30 grams of cannabis. However, expungement isn’t available if a violent crime was also part of the charge. For people with convictions involving larger amounts — anywhere from 30 to 500 grams — they can petition to have their charges removed.

When someone petitions the court for charges related to 30 to 500 grams, it’s treated on a case-by-case basis. Since these expungements aren’t automatic, prosecutors can object.

Officials in favor of the new law in Illinois said that without expungement for cannabis-related offenses, people would have a social stigma that follows them.

Social Equity Program

The law also includes a social equity program. The idea of the program is to help communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. Under this part of the law, it becomes easier for people with convictions related to marijuana to get business licenses. There is an allocation of $12 million for startups related to cannabis and funding for job training programs in the new cannabis industry in the state.

The Department of Agriculture in Illinois and the community college board are working on pilot programs that prepare people to work in the state’s new industry. The required focus will be on helping low-income students get into these programs.

Cannabis Laws Nationwide

Illinois is just one of 11 states that legalized recreational marijuana use. Eighteen states decriminalized marijuana, and 34 states allow for the use of medical marijuana.

Illinois isn’t the only state to also include clemency for people with marijuana convictions. In June, the governor of Washington signed a law providing people with marijuana offenses the ability to have their sentences vacated.


Prior, Ryan. “Illinois is expunging marijuana convicti[…]000 criminal records.” CNN, June 27, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2019.

Green, Chris. “Illinois residents in line for expungeme[…]rijuana convictions.” June 8, 2019. Accessed July 22, 2019.

Ben-Amots, Zach. “After marijuana legalization in Illinois[…]ana criminal charges.” ABC 7, July 2, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2019.

Hughes, Trever. “Illinois approves legal weed, expunging […]ords for pot crimes.“ USA Today, June 25, 2019. Accessed July 22, 2019.

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