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Gov. JB Pritzker Grants More Than 11,000 Pardons For Low-Level Marijuana Convictions

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Gov. JB Pritzker has issued more than 11,000 pardons for people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana cases, in the first step toward clearing the records of hundreds of thousands of low-level pot convictions, a day before the state legalizes cannabis in 2020.

"These 11,017 misdemeanor convictions represent individuals who have carried around with them a stain on their records for possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis; a stain that has very often prevented them from obtaining housing, or jobs, or benefits. Today, we lift the burden on the first 11,000," Pritzker said Monday at Trinity United Church of Christ.

The move is just the first wave toward clearing more than 700,000 low-level pot convictions in the coming months and years, as Illinois officially legalizes marijuana beginning Wednesday.

Illinois residents who are at least 21 years old may possess up to 30 grams of marijuana when the new law begins on Jan. 1.

Pritzker promised people with low-level pot convictions will get a new lease on life as marijuana becomes legal. The governor said marijuana convictions disproportionately affected the African American and Hispanic communities for decades. This step was one way to right that wrong.

The process for expunging an estimated 700,000 marijuana convictions won't be simple, or fast, however. The state law legalizing marijuana provides for up to five years to clear convictions.

The automatic expungement does not happen when recreational marijuana is legalized on Wednesday. It happens when when cases are identified and processed – and the State of Illinois and Cook County are each going about that differently.

Each start with The Illinois State Police, with officers reviewing databases for eligible cases individually.

In the end, State Police and local law enforcement will be responsible for dedicating personnel to wiping away the records.

An "automatic" expungement doesn't have to be approved until January 2021 if it dates as far back as 2013.

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office moved to expunge more than 1,000 low-level, non-violent pot convictions in Cook County earlier this month. Ultimately, her office expects to clear tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of marijuana convictions.

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