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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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Conservatives Slam Elmo For Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19 

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While critics accused the muppet of promoting propaganda, CDC data shows the shots are safe and effective.


Elmo Gets Vaccinated 

Conservative politicians expressed outrage on Twitter after the beloved “Sesame Street” character Elmo revealed he got vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cleared the way for children between the ages of six months and five years to get vaccinated against the virus. The famous red muppet is three years old, making him finally eligible for the jab. 

In a video shared by “Sesame Street,” Elmo said that he felt “a little pinch, but it was okay.” 

Elmo’s father, Louie, then addressed parents who might be apprehensive about vaccinating their own kids. 

“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the COVID vaccine,” he said to the camera. “Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice.” 

“I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors, and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love,” he continued. 

Republicans Criticize “Sesame Street”

While some praised the video for raising awareness and addressing the concerns parents may have, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) quickly lambasted the effort.

“Thanks, Sesame Street for saying parents are allowed to have questions,” Cruz tweeted. “You then have Elmo aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5. But you cite ZERO scientific evidence for this.”

Despite Cruz’s claim, the CDC has provided ample resources with information on vaccines for children. 

He was not alone in criticizing the video. Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California, suggested that Elmo would be taking puberty blockers next. 

Other anti-vaxxers claimed Elmo would get myocarditis and accused “Sesame Street” of promoting propaganda.

COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be both safe and effective against transmission of the virus, but this is not the first time conservatives have turned their anger against a friendly-looking muppet who opted to get the jab. When Big Bird got vaccinated in November, Cruz and other right-wing figures accused the show of brainwashing kids.

Big Bird’s choice to get vaccinated was not a shocker though, clips dating back to 1972 show him getting immunized against the measles. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Hill) (Market Watch)

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Uvalde Puts Police Chief on Leave, Tries to Kick Him Off City Council

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If Pete Arredondo fails to attend two more consecutive city council meetings, then he may be voted out of office.


Police Chief Faces Public Fury

Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave Wednesday following revelations that he and his officers did not engage the shooter at Robb Elementary for over an hour despite having adequate weaponry and protection.

Superintendent Hal Harrell, who made the announcement, did not specify whether the leave is paid or unpaid.

Harrell said in a statement that the school district would have waited for an investigation to conclude before making any personnel decisions, but chose to order the administrative leave because it is uncertain how long the investigation will take.

Lieutenant Mike Hernandez, the second in command at the police department, will assume Arredondo’s duties.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he did not consider himself in charge during the shooting, but law enforcement records reviewed by the outlet indicate that he gave orders at the scene.

Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state senators on Tuesday that some officers wanted to enter the classrooms harboring the shooter but were stopped by their superiors.

He said officer Ruben Ruiz tried to move forward into the hallway after receiving a call from his wife Eva Mireles, a teacher inside one of the classrooms, telling him she had been shot and was bleeding to death.

Ruiz was detained, had his gun taken away, and was escorted off the scene, according to McCraw. Mireles later died of her wounds.

Calls for Arredondo to resign or be fired have persisted.

Emotions Erupt at City Council

Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the Uvalde City Council held a special meeting in which community members and relatives of victims voiced their anger and demanded accountability.

“Who are you protecting?” Asked Jasmine Cazares, sister of Jackie Cazares, a nine-year-old student who was shot. “Not my sister. The parents? No. You’re too busy putting them in handcuffs.”

Much of the anger was directed toward Arredondo, who was not present at the meeting but was elected to the city council on May 7, just over two weeks before the massacre.

“We are having to beg ya’ll to do something to get this man out of our faces,” said the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old victim. “We can’t see that gunman. That gunman got off easy. We can’t take our frustrations out on that gunman. He’s dead. He’s gone. … Ya’ll need to put yourselves in our shoes, and don’t say that none of ya’ll have, because I guarantee you if any of ya’ll were in our shoes, ya’ll would have been pulling every string that ya’ll have to get this man off the council.”

One woman demanded the council refuse to grant Arredondo the leave of absence he had requested, pointing out that if he fails to attend three consecutive meetings the council can vote him out for abandoning his office.

“What you can do right now is not give him, if he requests it, a leave of absence,” she said. “Don’t give him an out. We don’t want him. We want him out.”

After hearing from the residents, the council voted unanimously not to approve the leave of absence.

On Tuesday, Uvalde’s mayor announced that Robb Elementary is set to be demolished, saying no students or teachers should have to return to it after what happened.

We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.

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Texas Public Safety Director Says Police Response to Uvalde Shooting Was An “Abject Failure”

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New footage shows officers prepared to engage the shooter one hour before they entered the classroom.


Seventy-Seven Deadly Minutes

Nearly a month after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, evidence has emerged indicating that police were prepared to engage the shooter within minutes of arriving, but chose to wait over an hour.

The shooting at Robb Elementary began at 11:33 a.m., and within three minutes 11 officers are believed to have entered the school, according to surveillance and body camera footage obtained by KVUE and the Austin American Statesman.

District Police Chief Pete Arredondo reportedly called a landline at the police department at 11:40 a.m. for help.

“It’s an emergency right now,” he said. “We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot… They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have firepower right now. It’s all pistols.”

At 11:52 a.m., however, the footage shows multiple officers inside the school armed with at least two rifles and one ballistic shield.

Law enforcement did not enter the adjoined classrooms to engage the shooter until almost an hour later, at 12:50 p.m. During that time, one officer’s daughter was inside the classrooms and another’s wife, a teacher, reportedly called him to say she was bleeding to death.

Thirty minutes before law enforcement entered the classrooms, the footage shows officers had four ballistic shields in the hallway.

Frustrated Cops Want to Go Inside

Some of the officers felt agitated because they were not allowed to enter the classrooms.

One special agent at the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting started, then immediately asked, “Are there still kids in the classrooms?”

“It is unknown at this time,” another officer replied.

“Ya’ll don’t know if there’s kids in there?” The agent shot back. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”

“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” the other officer responded.

According to an earlier account by Arredondo, he and the other officers tried to open the doors to the classrooms, but found them both locked and waited for a master key to arrive. But surveillance footage suggests that they never tried to open the doors, which a top Texas official has confirmed were never actually locked.

One officer has told reporters that within minutes of the police response, there was a Halligan bar, which firefighters use to break down locked doors, on-site, but it was never used.

At a special State Senate committee hearing Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” and “antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”

“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from (entering rooms) 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said. “The officers have weapons, the children had none.”

We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.

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