New Leaf Illinois Alliance to Help Clear Cannabis Convictions

November 19, 2020 – Press Releases

Fox Rothschild LLP Partner Gray I. Mateo-Harris serves as a board member for the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF).  Today, Gray joined IEJF and the State of Illinois to announce the launch of New Leaf Illinois, an alliance of 20 organizations that will provide free legal and advisory services to help eligible Illinoisans clear their record of cannabis convictions. The new resource was made possible by specific funding requirements of the 2019 Illinois cannabis legalization law.

“Communities of color have borne the impact of the discriminatory enforcement of the four-decade long war on drugs,” said Mateo-Harris, who serves on the board of IEJF.  “While people of all races illegally grew, smoked and sold marijuana, it was Black and brown people who were much more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for it.”

When Illinois legalized cannabis possession and consumption in 2019, the State recognized the need to rectify the damage caused by the decades-long war on drugs and how it disproportionately impacted communities of color and the economically disenfranchised. As part of this policy change, the State created a pathway for individuals previously arrested or convicted of cannabis violations to have their records expunged.

Although an estimated 778,000 cannabis convictions are eligible for automatic expungement by law enforcement and the pardon process, an estimated 71,000 criminal records on file could qualify for expungement but will not be done automatically. New Leaf Illinois will help determine eligibility for relief through an online portal, www.newleafillinois.org, and legal aid organizations within the New Leaf Illinois Network will provide free services to income-level qualifying individuals in every region of the state.

“At the heart of our cannabis legalization effort was the concept of a three-legged stool—representing restoration, reinvestment and inclusion,” said Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-14), one of the lead sponsors of the 2019 cannabis legalization legislation. “Expungement for those with previous cannabis records is a key element of this new path forward. And today, the New Leaf Illinois program is helping to embody these principles by working to restore communities who’ve been hit hardest by the war on drugs, reinvest in individuals who continue to be unfairly punished by past convictions, and include everyone, especially those who have been historically marginalized and shut out.”

About Illinois Equal Justice Foundation

IEJF, a 501 c 3 tax exempt organization, distributes funding appropriated by the State to support not-for-profit legal aid programs. The funding for the IEJF, which comes through an appropriation through the Office of the Attorney General, directly helps families in crisis, victims of domestic violence and seniors facing abuse and financial exploitation. The IEJF supports innovative, cost-effective legal aid programs that empower clients to resolve legal issues and regain control of their lives. These programs offer information, guidance, advice, representation and tools to help clients understand the legal system and their rights within it.