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Illinois to Expunge Nearly 800,000 Marijuana Convictions

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  • Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.
  • Experts have said the law contains one of the most comprehensive criminal justice reforms compared to other states that have legalized marijuana.
  • Once in effect, the law will expunge the criminal records of nearly 770,000 people previously charged with buying or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less.
  • It also includes a social equity program that will provide grants and loans to people in communities impacted by the war on drugs and give them priority for obtaining business licenses to operate cannabis stores.

Legalization Bill

Illinois became the 11th state to legalize marijuana Tuesday when Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that will make the sale of cannabis legal and implement sweeping criminal justice reform.

The bill is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and will allow Illinois residents 21 and over to buy and possess up to 30 grams (1 ounce) of recreational marijuana. Non-residents visiting the state will be allowed to purchase up to 15 grams.

Once in effect, the law will also automatically expunge the criminal records of around 770,000 people convicted of purchasing or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less. Those convicted of buying or possessing 30 to 500 grams can petition a court to have their charges expunged.

The expungement provision is one of several in the bill targeted towards communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. 

“In the past 50 years, the war on cannabis has destroyed families, filled prisons with nonviolent offenders and disproportionately disrupted black and brown communities,” Pritzker said at the bill signing.

“Studies have shown time and time again that black and white people tend to use cannabis at the same rates, but black people are far more likely to be arrested for possession,” he continued. “Today we are giving hundreds of thousands of people the chance at a better life.”

Social Equity Program

In addition to the expungements, the new law also includes a social equity program that will give grants and loans to individuals in communities affected by the war on drugs who want to start a cannabis business.

The program will also give preference to minorities who apply for businesses licenses. Heather Steans, the main Illinois state senator who sponsored the bill, predicted that at least 20% of licenses will go to people of color, according to Rolling Stone.

Additionally, the social equity program mandates that 25% of tax revenue from marijuana sales will go to redeveloping and reinvesting in communities that have been hurt by the war on drugs.

Opposition

Law enforcement organizations expressed concern over the bill throughout the legislative process.

Police have argued that enforcing driving under the influence laws will be difficult as the technology for testing marijuana impairment needs to be developed more.

While the legalization bill was being debated in the state’s legislature, law enforcement lobbyists successfully killed a measure that would have allowed adults over 21 to grow up to five marijuana plants for personal use.

Police again argued that enforcement would be difficult, and as a result, the bill was amended so only medical marijuana users can grow plants at home.

However, law enforcement was not the only group that opposed the legalization or specific parts of it. According to Dan Linn, the executive director of Illinois NORML, the drug testing industry, as well as anti-drug groups and some religious organizations also fought against the bill.

Comprehensive Legalization

Illinois now joins Washington, D.C. and 10 other states that have already legalized marijuana.

However, the state’s new law is a landmark in several ways. Illinois is the first state to legalize the sale of marijuana through its legislature rather than through a ballot initiative.

The 11 states that have legalized marijuana, not including Washington, D.C.

Illinois’ social equity program also represents one of the most comprehensive criminal justice reforms among states that have legalized marijuana.

Other states where cannabis is legal now have similar provisions, but those provisions were implemented separately after the states had already passed legalization.

Just last month Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law that will allow misdemeanor marijuana convictions given before the drug was legalized to be vacated. The move came nearly seven years after the state voted to legalize marijuana.

In February, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to clear all eligible marijuana convictions when officials announced that they would dismiss 9,362 charges dating back to 1975. Again, the move came more than two years after California legalized marijuana.

Illinois’ new legalization law, by contrast, is the first one that mandates such extensive expungement from the start.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (The Associated Press) (CNN)

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Viral Photo of Crowded Reopened Georgia High School Sparks Concerns

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  • A viral photo showing students at North Paulding High School in Georgia walking in a crowded hallway without masks has sparked widespread concerns about schools reopening safely.
  • According to BuzzFeed News, there is at least one football player that has tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as several staff members.
  • Students who choose to not go to school can be suspended or expelled. Additionally, students who share content criticizing the school can be punished as well, and two have already been suspended for sharing photos of crowded halls, according to BuzzFeed.
  • This school is just one of many in Georgia making headlines for seeing positive COVID-19 cases. In Cherokee County, there are four schools with confirmed cases that have forced dozens of students to quarantine within their first week back.

Viral Photo in North Paulding High School

When North Paulding High School in Georgia opened back up on Monday, kids were crammed in the hallway between classes, shoulder to shoulder, many without masks.

A photo that captured one of these crowded halls quickly went viral, prompting widespread outrage as it highlighted just one of several concerns many have about schools reopening throughout the state.

Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott addressed the photo in a letter early this week, claiming that it lacked larger context. Masks are not mandatory at North Paulding, as the school district said that the choice to wear a mask is a personal one, and claim enforcing a mandate is not realistic. Otott also said that students are not passing one another in the hallway to transmit COVID-19.

Health experts, however, do not believe this is true. With such close proximity and a lack of masks, transmission in situations like this is still possible. The school’s first day also comes as both new cases and deaths in the state of Georgia are in their peak. So far, the state has had a total of 186,395 cases and 3,899 deaths.

If that photo did not spark enough concerns, there is also already at least one confirmed coronavirus case on North Paulding’s football team. According to BuzzFeed News, footballers at the school are not the only ones at risk.

Teachers told the outlet that there are positive cases among the staff, including an employee who came into contact with most teachers while they were symptomatic. Still, the school will not confirm cases among employees for privacy reasons. 

That was exactly one week ago, so we are all waiting to see who gets sick next week,” one teacher told BuzzFeed.

Most who are nervous about attending school are left with essentially no other option than to face their fears and risk infection. Virtual learning was an option for students at North Paulding, but the limited slots filled up quickly. On top of this, BuzzFeed News learned from a set of parents who wanted to keep their son home upon seeing the photo, that any student who chooses to not attend school could face suspension or expulsion.

On top of this, the school made an announcement warning students that anyone who shared negative content about the school online would face disciplinary action. According to BuzzFeed News, two students have already been suspended for sharing now-viral photos of crowded halls.

Concerns Statewide

North Paulding is not the only school in the state making headlines. In Cherokee County, a second grader tested positive for the virus on the first day of school. Now, their class of 20 students will be quarantining for 14 days. 

On Wednesday, officials announced that three additional schools in the county had positive cases. Those cases involved a first grader, eighth grader, and Kindergarten teacher. Several students and staff at each of these schools now must undergo a two week quarantine as well.

Statewide, school officials are concerned about what the school year will look like.

“So long as COVID-19 runs rampant, there will be too many bodies in close quarters for us to co-exist in a traditional setting,” Dooly County Schools Superintendent Craig Lockhart telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are not ready to return to in-person schooling and be highly confident that we can protect employees and students.”

But on the other side of this, there are parents and students eager to get back to in person classes, either because they trust their school district to handle things well, or because online learning at home just was not working well for them.

“There is a really strong case for trying to reopen schools because there are so many benefits, both for children, not only academic benefits but health and social-emotional health, and also for families, many of whom are trying to get back to work to restart the economy,”  Charlene Wong, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Duke School of Medicine also told the AJC.

Can Kids Spread the Virus?

Still, Wong believes that safety opening schools is complex and requires a multitude of safety measures. The risk is especially high because experts are still in the early stages of learning what role children play in spreading and getting this virus, especially in a crowded space like a school. Currently, most studies and research have not focused on children, so there is not enough data to prove anything just yet, despite the widespread belief that children are less likely to get and transmit the virus.

In fact, one case out of Georgia proves that idea wrong. One summer camp in Georgia was forced to close after there were 260 coronavirus cases on site, the majority of which came from people aged 17 and younger. 

Another study done in South Korea concluded that while children nine and under do not transmit the virus as frequently as adults, the risk of them doing so still exists. That study also claims that people between the ages 10 and 19 actually spread COVID-19 at the same rate as adults. 

See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Washington Post)

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NJ Woman Charged for Assaulting Staples Customer Who Asked Her to Correctly Wear a Mask

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  • New Jersey Police have charged 25-year-old Terri Thomas with second-degree aggravated assault for violently tossing a woman with a cane to the ground at a Staples store last Wednesday.
  • Thomas attacked 54-year-old Margot Kagan for telling her to wear her face mask properly.
  • Kagan, who police say had a liver transplant four months ago, was hospitalized and is recovering from a leg injury that required surgery as a result of the incident. 

The Incident

Police in New Jersey said Tuesday that they arrested and charged a woman caught on surveillance video attacking a fellow Staples customer who told her to correctly wear her mask. 

The dispute happened inside a Hackensack Staples store last Wednesday when 54-year-old Margot Kagan was using the copy machine. Kagan, who police said had a liver transplant four months ago, noticed 25-year-old Terri Thomas walk by with her mask below her mouth. 

Kagan told a local news station that she told Thomas, “You should really put a mask on,” and warned her that she was endangering everyone. However, the remarks made Thomas angry she reportedly began yelling.

The surveillance footage shows Thomas walking towards Kagan, who lifts her cane to keep Thomas away. Thomas then reaches for the cane and violently tosses Kagan to the ground.

Thomas walks out of view for a few seconds and when she returns, Kagan sticks her leg out to trip Thomas, but Thomas ultimately walks away unharmed and leaves the store. 

Injuries and Charges 

Kagan was hospitalized after the attack and police said she left with a fractured left tibia that required surgery. However, Kagan later told ABC 7 she suffered a broken knee and required a steel plate to be put in. She also claims she’s been told by doctors that she won’t be able to put weight on her leg for seven to 10 weeks. 

As far as Thomas, police have charged her with second-degree aggravated assault and she was released on a summons pending a court appearance on August 24. In New Jersey, the charge is punishable by 5-10 years in jail, and fines as high as $150,000.

Hackensack police are encouraging anyone who witnessed the crime or have any information to reach out to them. 

See what others are saying: (ABC7) (NJ.com) (NBC News)

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Aurora Police Apologize for Drawing Weapons on Black Family in Mistaken Stop

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  • Police drew guns on a Black family in Aurora, Colorado on Sunday who they believed were in a stolen vehicle, ordering the group out of the car and facedown down on the ground. 
  • The passengers were girls between the ages of 6 and 17 and video shows them sobbing in fear during the incident, with at least two minors in handcuffs. 
  • The adult female driver was able to confirm that the car was not stolen and police explained that the car had the same plate information as a car reported stolen in a different state. They also blamed the mixup on the fact that the family’s car was reported stolen earlier this year, even though Aurora police returned it back to them a day later. 
  • The city’s new police chief apologized and offered them therapy resources. She also said officers followed protocol but should be allowed to use discretion to deviate in situations like this and has ordered her team to look at new training practices.

What Happened? 

Police in Aurora, Colorado apologized Monday for drawing weapons on a Black family after mistaking their car for another stolen vehicle. 

On Sunday, August 2, Brittney Gilliam decided to take her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister, and 14 and 17-year-old nieces out to get their nails done. Gilliam told CNN that her niece had just gotten back in the car after looking to see if the nail salon they wanted to go to was open. At this point, she and the girls were parked in a parking lot with the car turned off.

That’s when Aurora police pulled up behind the vehicle with guns drawn. Then, police allegedly yelled at the group to put their hands out of the window and get out of the car.

She said the family exited the vehicle and were told to lay face down on the ground. At that time, police handcuffed Gilliam, her 12-year-old sister, and 17-year-old niece. Gilliam claims that police would not explain why she was pulled over until she was handcuffed. Then, they pulled her away to verify her claim that the car was not stolen as the children remained on the ground. 

A bystander named Jennifer Wurtz began recorded the incident after the family was handcuffed. The footage is about 12 and a half minutes long, but a shorter minute in a half-second clip went viral on Twitter. That clip shows the minors facedown on the floor sobbing as police try to keep onlookers away.

Eventually, police sit the children up and in the longer video, Wurtz can be heard pressing the officers about why they had drawn guns on children. 

Police repeatedly asked her to stop interfering, however, they did say she had the right to film. Wurtz stopped pointing the phone towards the scene, but continued to criticize the stop and asked for the officers’ names.

As frustration from onlookers grew, one officer explained that this was a “high-risk stop” and that police were following procedure.

The onlookers were still angry about the policy being used against children and became angrier after learning that the car was in fact, not stolen. 

What Caused the Confusion? 

As far as what the mixup actually was, Gilliam explained that she had reported her car stolen in February, but that case was cleared up. In fact, her attorney told CNN that when her vehicle was stolen, it was actually returned to her the next day by Aurora police. 

In a statement late Monday, Intern Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said that after the stop, police realized the car Gilliam was driving was not stolen. Instead, another vehicle with the same plate information but from a different state had been. The Associated Press reported that the vehicle was a motorcycle from Montana. 

In her statement, Wilson said “The confusion may have been due, in part, to the fact that the stopped car was reported stolen. After realizing the mistake, officers immediately unhandcuffed everyone involved, explained what happened and apologized.”

“I have called (Gilliam’s) family to apologize and to offer any help we can provide, especially for the children who may have been traumatized by yesterday’s events,” she continued. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”

Outrage and Apology 

Still, that did little to put the community at ease, especially since the incident comes amid widespread frustration over how Black people are treated by police. Frustrations are especially high in Aurora, where police have faced security for the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. McClain was an unarmed Black man who was stopped by officers as he walked home after he was reported as a suspicious person in a ski mask. 

During the confrontation, officers placed him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with ketamine to sedate him. He then suffered a heart attack in the ambulance and was declared brain dead days later before being taken off life support. 

Just last month, two officers were fired for reenacting the chokehold in a photo near the memorial site for Elijah McClain A third officer was fired for not alerting supervisors about the photo while a fourth resigned before a disciplinary hearing about the incident. 

So this latest incident piled on the existing outrage against the local department and police policies in general. And many, including Gilliam, felt that the stolen car mixup did not justify how the young girls were treated. 

“That’s police brutality,” she told KUSA. “There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way. … You could have even told them, ‘Step off to the side let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’ ”

In her statement, Chief Wilson confirmed that a suspect in a stolen vehicle is a high-risk stop, and said officers followed procedures they are trained to carry out. However, she added that the department, “must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves.”

Wilson added that an internal investigation into this incident has been opened and said she had directed her team to look at new practices and training. Her promises to reexamine department practices are especially significant because that same Monday night, Aurora’s city council voted to make Wilson the city’s permanent police chief. 

See what others are saying: (Denver Post) (CNN) (Sentinel Colorado)

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