New Leaf utilizing $1.3 million in legal aid to remove Illinois cannabis convictions

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (IRN) — An Illinois non profit is offering taxpayer funded legal services to get cannabis arrests and convictions cleared from individual’s records.

New Leaf Illinois utilizes nearly $1.3 million in taxpayer funds to work toward expunging cannabis arrests and convictions. The group’s website says 18 nonprofit organizations in Illinois are offering free and legal representation and legal information to those who wish to have their cannabis convictions off their record. 

Although President Joseph Biden issued an executive order to pardon those with federal convictions for simple cannabis possession, there are still thousands more that did not automatically fall off and require a court filing. New Leaf commits itself to equal justice for all who have been arrested or convicted for “cannabis use, production and sale.”

“The program itself, while it is cannabis-focused, the truth is, the other organizations that we’re working with, the other partners for New Leaf, they’re really trying to help people deal with their entire criminal record,” New Leaf Supervising Attorney Patrick Honigmann told The Center Square. 

Honigmann said the arrest records automatically fall off under Biden’s order, but that’s only half the remedy. There is an arrest record and there is a court record.

“So when you go to apply for a job or to rent some property or for certain educational opportunities, where you want to own a firearm, then when they do these searches, the court records are what pops up and they say, ‘Oh, you were arrested for cannabis,’” Honigmann said. 

Employment isn’t the only factor taking a hit from these records. 

“Someone had applied for a life insurance policy, and even though they had a minor possession case that was dismissed, like if it was 10 or 15 years ago they were denied a life insurance policy and they claim it was just because of that,” Honigmann said. 

According to New Leaf’s website, the nonprofit has vacated and expunged 311 cannabis convictions while 183 non-conviction and other cannabis records have been expunged and sealed. 

“I see that as being a much broader kind of assistance that they’re giving people and that can be extremely helpful,” Honigmann said. 

By TRINA THOMAS for the Illinois Radio Network

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