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On Eve Of Legal Marijuana In Illinois, Governor Pardons 11,017 Past Convictions

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks to reporters in this file photo from April 2019.
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks to reporters in this file photo from April 2019.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday issued pardons for more than 11,000 low-level marijuana convictions.

Brian Mackey reports.

The move came on the eve of cannabis becoming a legal, commercial product under Illinois law.

“These 11,017 misdemeanor convictions represent individuals who’ve carried around with them a stain on their records for possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis,” Pritzker said.

The governor made the announcement at Trinity United Church in Chicago, where Senior Pastor Otis Moss III called mass incarceration the main civil rights issue of the 21st century.

Moss said Jesus would have understood what’s at stake: “Jesus was someone who lived in occupied territory, and understood what it meant to be stopped and frisked, and what happens when you have a really bad public defender.

"Jesus understood what it means to be executed as a result of a state execution,” Moss said. “So I have no idea how anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ could be against this type of policy.”

Pritzker said the main purpose of Illinois’ marijuana legalization is not to make cannabis widely available, but to “maximize equity,” which includes addressing past wrongs in the so-called war on drugs.

To that end, the administration says the Illinois State Police has identified more than 150,000 convictions — on top of more than 500,000 arrest records — that could be eligible for pardons or expungement.

Copyright 2019 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.