CBA Sept.-Oct. 2020


Pro Bono Week 2020 Repairing Harm, Restoring Lives: Expunging Cannabis Arrests and Convictions in Illinois By Nikki Donnelley, Beth Johnson, and Courtney Kelledes W hen laws are changed to reflect society’s evolving views on what is “criminal activity,” how do our state. By including components focused on repairing the harm caused by the failed war on drugs and decades of policies that caused mass incarceration — Illinois is [a] national leader with policy that’s a national model.”

those laws impact the people who were convicted before such activity became legal? When changing an activity from illegal to one that is regulated and taxed, what is the responsibility to restore the lives of people previously arrested, convicted, and even imprisoned for this same activity? These were some of the ethical and moral considerations faced by sponsors of Illinois’ recreational cannabis bill passed during the 101st General Assembly. The bill’s sponsors were challenged to halt the harms of crimi- nalization, while also creating avenues to repair the prior damage disproportionately brought upon communities of color. The sponsors rose to that challenge. On June 25, 2019, Illinois became the eleventh state to legalize recreational cannabis when Governor Pritzker signed into law the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (Public Act 101-0027). Our state was unique in three key ways: (1) Illinois was only the second state to legalize recreational cannabis through legislative action instead of a ballot initiative; (2) it was the first state to legislate the sale of recreational cannabis; and (3) it was the first state to codify restorative measures within the legis- lation aimed at repairing the harm that has disproportionately impacted low-income communities of color for generations. At the bill signing ceremony, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton’s statement summed up the historic measure: “This legislation lives true to the promise to bring justice, equity and opportunity throughout

Restore, Reinvest and Renew (R3) Program A key component of the legislation honor- ing its restorative focus was the creation of the Restore, Reinvest and Renew (R3) Program. The R3 Program was created “to directly address the impact of economic disinvestment, violence, and the historical overuse of criminal justice responses to community and individual needs by pro- viding resources to support local design and control of community-based responses.” 405 ILCS 705/10-40(a)(1) . The Program’s goals of reducing gun violence and con- centrated poverty through targeted invest- ments and intervention programs, while promoting employment infrastructure and capacity building in eligible communi- ties, are in part met through a dedication of 25% net tax revenue from the sale of cannabis to the R3 grant program. This revenue is designated to fund community programs that address violence prevention, economic development, reentry services, youth development, and civil legal aid. 405 ILCS 705/10-40(g)(3) . Access to legal representation and advice is a critical component of repairing harm and restoring lives, as recognized by its inclusion within the funding priorities. Social Equity Applicant Program To ensure access to an industry that was

positioned to profit from the legalization of cannabis, the CRTA created the Social Equity Applicant Program. Social equity applicants must either have a business that has 51% ownership or more than 10 full- time employees where more than half: (i) live in a Disproportionately Impacted Area (determined by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO)); (ii) or they themselves or their parent, child or spouse have been arrested, convicted, or adjudicated delinquent for a cannabis-related offense of possession up to 500 grams or intent to deliver up to 30 grams. This created opportunities for technical assistance, support, and access to low-interest loan programs through DCEO. The program also increased access to professional licensing opportunities for social equity applicants seeking dispensary licenses through the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, and craft grower, infuser, and transporter licenses through

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