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Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Brown warns pot law may be tricky

By Chinta Strausberg

When the New Year rolls in, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown believe many people will get caught up in a “trick bag,” thinking they can light up their legal marijuana joint, because that is the day the popular drug becomes legal in the state of Illinois.

Jackson voiced his concerns over the possible misunderstandings of the January 1, 2020 law that legalizes recreational marijuana and said those unaware of the prohibitions will land up in jail.

“It’s a trick bag,” he said.

Agreeing was Brown who warned that come New Year’s Day, “Don’t light up [your marijuana cigarette] and walk around in public thinking that you will not be arrested for smoking marijuana in public. “If you are under 21, you cannot smoke recreational marijuana whether in public or private. You can be arrested even if it is under the quantity they have legalized for adults only,” Brown said on December 28.

“It’s important for people to know that you cannot smoke marijuana in public, in a public place, and you cannot ride around in your car smoking,” said Brown. “You cannot smoke marijuana in the park. You can’t even sit on your front porch and smoke it.”

According to the new state law for adults, these are the limitations for possession and purchase of marijuana: Up to 30 grams, or about one ounce, of marijuana plant material; edibles totaling no more than 500mg of THC (Tetrahydrocan- nabinol, a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis); and five grams of can- nabis concentrate products. “THC is the substance that makes marijuana very addictive,” Brown said.

The issue of legalizing marijuana came up during the weekly live Rainbow PUSH Coalition broadcast at the Parkway Ballroom, 4455 S. Dr. King Drive, when WVON’s Perri Small, who was moderating a women’s panel on a myriad of social justice issues, asked Clerk Brown about the January 1, 2020, law.

Small wanted to know about the bill allowing automatic expungement of records for those who were arrested on marijuana charges or are in jail on those charges.

But before Brown answered Small’s question, she wanted the public to know that come the first of the year doesn’t mean it’s party pot time in Chi-town.

Explaining, Brown later said, “It’s important that people know that you still cannot smoke marijuana in public.” She further explained why this law could be a “trick bag” for some pot-smoking employees.

“You cannot possess, dispense or smoke at your job, and an employer can have a good faith belief that you’re high and discipline you, up to and including discharge. Your employer has a right to set the standard for any controlled substance including cannabis.”

Brown’s office is drug-free, or she has a zero-tolerance policy for employees, meaning that possession or use of cannabis or any controlled substance on the job is prohibited. “I think it is important for people to understand this,” Brown stated.

Referring to the state bill that was passed last June allowing for the expungement of marijuana convictions from roughly 770,000 criminal records in the state, Brown said, “I am very happy because these marijuana offenses are going to be automatically expunged in several instances: where you were arrested and not charged, where you had an order of supervision, or an order of qualified probation.”

Explaining the expungement requirement of the bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly and sign- ed by Governor J.B. Pritzker, Brown said, “The Illinois State Police and the Chicago Police Department are supposed to automatically expunge everything that occurred between 2013 and 2018 by the year 2021.

“They are supposed to automatically expunge everything that occurred between 2000 and 2012 by 2023, and everything that occurred prior to those periods by 2025.

“Those types of offenses are supposed to be expunged (off your record) automatically without you having to do anything.”

She urged those affected to check to see if that is being done. These instructions are for those who were arrested and not charged.

However, if you were arrested and convicted for these minor offenses, Brown said, “There are two ways for those to be expunged off of your record. The state police can ask the governor for a pardon and after the governor grants that pardon—and there is a certain amount of time the State’s Attorney’s Office can object—but if they don’t, the governor is supposed to give you a pardon.

“The Attorney General is to bring to the courts all of your pardons and get them expunged. That is one way to get convictions expunged. However, State’s Attorneys in various counties and our State’s Attorney have chosen to take the convictions directly to the courts themselves and ask the court to vacate and expunge convictions for these minor offenses.”

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has already vacated and expunged 1,012 cases on December 7, 2019 and on December 31, she was set to do the same to another 5,000 cases.  “I will be working with her as Clerk of the Court,” said Brown, “and making sure people are notified of their rights.”

But Brown warned that people affected by these arrests need to go to her website: http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/NewWebsite and update their current address, because she has to send their orders for expungement to the last known address in her records.

There are other ways where those arrested for possession of marijuana can get their records expunged.

According to Clerk Brown, if you are in court and have a case pending for a minor offense, you can ask the judge to dismiss and expunge that case.

“Also, you may be in jail or in prison awaiting a case. You have a right to ask the Illinois Department of Corrections to let you have access to information to find out if your case was expunged. You do not have to wait for the Illinois police to automatically expunge your records,” Brown said.

Finally, Brown said: “It is important for you to know that you can now ask for an expungement for convictions that used to be only civil. Something that is expunged, it is destroyed. It goes away altogether and no one can get to it except law enforcement.”

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