Breaking the stigma of marijuana use

Lawyers fight to expunge criminal records for a drug that is now legal.
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 5:54 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - For some stateline residents, April 20th marks a day of celebrating all things weed, for others it serves as a cruel reminder of their past.

Illinois approved regulated marijuana use in January 2020. However, according to New Leaf, a statewide, state funded nonprofit dedicated to expunging marijuana convictions, 34,000 Illinoisans have records that were not automatically cleared by the law, influencing the ability to get jobs, buy houses or acquire insurance, something that the organization wants to change.

“Social equity was a huge part of that legislation, not just making cannabis legal, but how do you rectify harms that were caused by the prior criminalization of it,” said Beth Johnson, project manager at New Leaf.

“For people to know the process, and to not have a point in their past life come up to create a barrier for their future, i mean how can that not be something that everyone aims for right?” She said.

Erik Carlson used to practice law and now is establishing a local grow house in Rockford. Carlson believes in Johnson’s crusade to right the wrongs from a law that they feel was originally put in place for racial and discriminatory reasons.

“The expungement is vital for people with a criminal record. When you have a felony on your record, there are so many things in society that are blocked off to you. You have difficulty getting a job, getting banking, getting housing, just go down the laundry list,” Carlson told 23 News.

Despite this, Carlson says he sees the stigma around the plant is changing in his stores.

“We have people who show up in their seventies, who have never tried the plan before. Other people around that age who loved the plant back when they were in college 20, 30, 40 years ago but haven’t tried it since, and we have people who are regular users who come in all the time.”

Carlson says classes offered through Kishwaukee College will teach students how to grow cannabis.

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