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ROCKFORD — A cornerstone of the law that legalized marijuana in Illinois was a provision to expunge the records of people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses.

Gov. JB Pritzker on New Year’s Eve issued an estimated 11,000 pardons for misdemeanor marijuana convictions in what he described as a first wave of thousands of coming expungements. The first wave focused on smaller counties throughout the state and did not include Winnebago or Cook counties.

Among them were 227 pardons for misdemeanor marijuana offenses in Stephenson County, 219 in Boone County, 267 in Ogle County and 206 in Lee County, according to a county-by-county breakdown released Tuesday at the request of The Journal Star, a sister paper to the Rockford Register Star and Freeport Journal Standard.

The provision was crafted by lawmakers in an effort to repair some of the damage inflicted by what they viewed as a failed war on drugs, especially in minority and marginalized communities.

Offenders are “forced to live in permanent second-class citizenship … and forced to face those collateral consequences everywhere,” said Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat who led the expungement push, last summer.

Pritzker announced the pardons at a church on Chicago’s South Side, saying that clearing the misdemeanor offenses would make it easier for people to get jobs, housing and financial aid for college, the Associated Press reported.

The convictions will be wiped off the books in phases. Automatic expungements will be granted for arrests involving less than 30 grams, or about about one ounce. Convictions for possessing 30 to 500 grams — about a pound — will have to go before a judge, who will review each case individually.

State officials estimate there are 770,000 marijuana-related criminal records eligible for expungement.

Andy Kravetz of the Journal Star and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jeff Kolkey: 815-987-1374; jkolkey@rrstar.com; @jeffkolkey

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