Cook County, Ill., Code for America to Clear Pot Convictions

The county, which is home to Chicago, will partner with the national civic tech organization to clear tens of thousands of cannabis-related convictions that are eligible for erasure in the wake of a newly passed law.

by / August 27, 2019
Chicago River Shutterstock/elegeyda

Cook County, Ill., will partner with Code for America to clear tens of thousands of eligible convictions in the wake of a newly-passed state law.

The Illinois law — the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act — was signed in June, and it essentially legalizes the sale and use of recreational marijuana within the state. At the same time, it also creates an opt-in process for state’s attorneys in the jurisdiction to clear convictions that are no longer illegal. This, however, can be a heavy and time-consuming lift, which is why Cook County — a large jurisdiction that includes Chicago — is partnering with Code for America.

Code for America, a national nonprofit and nonpartisan civic tech organization, has used tech to facilitate similar undertakings for counties in California, with its Clear My Record effort. This new team effort with Cook County will be Code for America’s first use of the platform outside of California. 

In a press release announcing the collaboration, Cook County officials noted that the automatic clearance of convictions that are eligible will “address the wrongs caused by the failed war on drugs, felt most acutely in communities of color, and fulfill the promise of the reforms aimed at remedying the legacy of mass incarceration in Illinois.”

“The technology and innovation made possible through our partnership with Code for America will help us provide broad and equitable conviction relief for tens of thousands of people while ensuring that more of our time and resources can be used to combat violent crime,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in a statement. 

Clear My Record has enabled counties in California to automatically evaluate 75,000 cannabis convictions, determining whether they are eligible and ultimately clearing them within the course of a few minutes. Most importantly for those in local government, the entire process being automated means that no staff members must devote significant amounts of paid time to the undertaking. For residents, it means they don’t have to hire a lawyer or spend their own time working to get their past convictions cleared. 

Code for America has set a goal of clearing 250,000 cannabis convictions nationwide by the end of 2019.

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