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Digging Deeper: One man chronicles journey with weed felonies and expungement

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(WEEK) – Nearly 700,000 Illinois residents were considered criminals before January 1 for the low-level marijuana offenses on their record.

Now, new marijuana laws are wiping those slates clean.

Many people are excited, but one man has a different reaction.

He asked to remain anonymous, so we’ll call him John.

For 27 years, John has been paying for a mistake he made when he was young and dumb – a class 4 felony that, just over four weeks ago, is no longer against the law.

“I knew that that stuff was wrong,” he said.

He was 19 and with nothing on his record. But that all changed in 1993, when his friend admitted to police that John had weed.

“I was caught up in a multi-county enforcement group and they were running a lot of drug busts at the time,” he said.

John was caught with 13 grams of weed when Tazewell County law enforcement put him in handcuffs, for unlawful delivery and possession of drugs.

“I was given the first-time offender’s probation,” he said. “I’d never been arrested before, never been in trouble before which was great.”

“Except for raising a family and working, it was extremely hard to get through the probation times.”

That led to John missing quite a few meetings.

“I failed that first- time probation – totally my fault,” he said. “The second time they charged me with the original crimes and that left me with two class 4 felonies…for life.”

From that point, he said things went downhill.

“Instantly, I knew that my life was gonna be forever changed.”

Finding honest work became an uphill battle. One that never really got easier.

“A felony made it extremely hard to get a job from the day I was charged with it,” he said. “Up until now, and I’m currently worried about that coming back to haunt me.”

John is currently employed and off probation for those crimes, after paying thousands in fines and doing community service.

But he said he still can’t escape the shadow of his past.

“I can’t say it enough,” he said. “Every single day I know I have two class 4 felonies.”

“Everyday I wake up, that’s in my mind.”

And out of all of those punishments, the most costly are the painful memories he carries to this day – some of them too difficult for him to put into words.

“Jail was no fun…yeah, not a good place.”

And if you ask him now what it’s like to be able to walk into a dispensary and legally buy more than double the amount of marijuana he was arrested for years ago…

“It’s a kick in the teeth.”

In fact, he turned to alcohol to help him cope – and spent years battling that addiction.

“I probably took up alcohol because it was legal and marijuana was not.”

John kicked that habit with the support of his family.

“I’ve been sober for five years now…pretty proud of that.”

Guess what he credits with helping him reach that milestone.

“Cannabis probably helped me with that too.”

Years later, he got a medical marijuana card. Nowadays, he’s looking forward to what he calls “the one bright spot” in all of this…the promise that his record will be expunged.

“I think I should be contacted…yeah, it’s a very very good deal that they did that.”

Because he was arrested before 2000, his record likely won’t be cleared for another five years.

Lauren Melendez

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