Politics of Pot: The new marijuana law in Illinois


SOLEDAD: IN JUNE, ILLINOIS
BECOME THE JUST THE 11TH STATE
TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA. BUT THEY WENT ONE STEP FURTHER. BEGINNING IN JANUARY, ILLINOIS
WILL BECOME THE FIRST STATE TO
ALLOW THE POSSESSION AND SALE OF
MARIJUANA, CREATING A NEW SYSTEM
OF TAXES AND REGULATIONS. CITIES AND COUNTIES CAN PROHIBIT
SALES WITHIN THEIR BORDERS BUT
NOT POSSESSION. MARIJUANA IS STILL ILLEGAL AT
THE FEDERAL LEVEL, AND STATES
ARE NOW TRYING TO RECKON WITH
THE WAR ON DRUGS, WHICH
DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED
PEOPLE OF COLOR, PARTICULARLY BLACK MEN. THE LAW IN ILLINOIS INCLUDES
PROVISIONS TO WIPE OUT LOWER
LEVEL CANNABIS CONVICTIONS AND
ARREST
DARIUS BALLINGER RUNS THE
MENTORING NON-PROFIT CALLED CHASING 23. HE’S HOPING TO GET A CLEAN
RECORD UNDER THE NEW LAW
DARIUS, THANKS FOR JOINING ME. DARIUS: THANKS FOR HAVING. SOLEDAD: SO TAKE ME BACK TO 2009
WHICH IS WHEN YOU WERE CONVICTED
OF A FELONY. WHAT HAPPENED? DARIUS: YEAH. SO I AM AT THE TIME, I WAS A
HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT, REALLY JUST
FINDING MY WAY IN LIFE, REALLY
MISGUIDED AND ON MY WAY. COMING BACK FROM SOUTHERN
ILLINOIS BACK TO CHICAGO, I WAS
STOPPED IN A ROUTINE TRAFFIC
STOP, AND AT THE TIME, WAS
ARRESTED FOR POSSESSION OF
CANNABIS. SOLEDAD: HOW MUCH OF THE DRUGS? DARIUS: WAS CLOSE TO A POUND OF
MARIJUANA. SOLEDAD: AND THAT MEANT THAT YOU
WERE CONVICTED AND WENT OFF TO
JAIL. DARIUS: YEAH, I WAS CONVICTED
AND SENT TO JAIL IN EPHRAM
COUNTY. I SAT THERE FOR ABOUT 45 DAYS
AND THEN TWO YEARS OF PROBATION. SOLEDAD: WHAT DID YOU DO NEXT? DARIUS: AND SO AT THIS TIME, I
VIOLATED MY PROBATION AND FELT
LIKE I WAS GONNA GO TO PRISON
AND FELT LIKE, YOU KNOW, ALL
HOPE WAS LOST. SOLEDAD: WHAT WAS THE CHARGE —
SECOND CHARGE FOR? DARIUS: THE SECOND CHARGE THAT I
PICKED UP WAS FOR FORGERY, WAS
FOR PRESCRIPTIONS, AND SO KIND
OF AFTER THAT ARREST AND AFTER
THAT TIME BEING INCARCERATED, I
HAD A SON, I HAD A FAMILY THAT WANTED TO BE FOR AND PROVIDE FOR
AND BE OUT IN THE WORLD FOR. SO I WAS RELEASED IN 2013. I WENT TO COMMUNITY COLLEGE FO
MY GED, EARNED MY ASSOCIATE’S
DEGREE, GOT INVOLVED ON CAMPUS,
BECAME STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT,
AND KIND OF THE STORY HAS BEEN
WRITTEN SINCE. SOLEDAD: PEOPLE WOULD SAY, WELL,
WHAT A GREAT EXAMPLE OF A GUY
WHO MADE IT IN SPITE OF HAVING A
CONVICTION. SOLEDAD: WHAT MADE IT HARD? DARIUS: RECIDIVISM IS EXTREMELY
HIGH. WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE CRIMINAL
JUSTICE SYSTEM FOR MOST
OFFENDERS, WITHIN ITS FIRST
THREE YEARS OF THEIR SENTENCE
THEY’RE MORE LIKELY TO PICK UP A
, NEW ARREST OR VIOLATE THEIR PROBATION. IT IS A CHALLENGE BECAUSE A LOT
OF FOLKS DON’T MAKE IT OUT OF
THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. YOU HAVE THINGS LIKE PROBATION,
COURT FEES, FINES, JUST LACK OF
SUPPORT THAT FOLKS DON’T HAVE
COMING OUT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
SYSTEM TO REALLY INSERT
THEMSELVES IN SOCIETY AND DO THE RIGHT THING. SOLEDAD: DID HAVING A FELONY
CONVICTION HAMPER ANY CHANCE YOU
HAD OF GETTING A GOOD JOB? DARIUS: YEAH, I MEAN, IT WAS IT
WAS MY FIRST BARRIER TO
EMPLOYMENT. RIGHT OUT OF INCARCERATION IN
COLLEGE AND EVEN WHEN I WAS, YOU
KNOW, ESTABLISHING MYSELF
THROUGH MY RESUME PROFESSIONALLY
, THROUGH MY EXPERIENCES,
THROUGH MY ASSOCIATIONS, AND JUST TO THIS NEW IDENTITY THAT
THE FELONY CONVICTION WAS STILL
THERE. SO, YOU KNOW, EVEN THOUGH I HAD
A PHENOMENAL RESUME ON PAPER,
THE CONVICTION WAS STILL A
CHALLENGE FOR MOST EMPLOYERS,
AND SO I SPENT FROM 2010 AND
2016, I REALLY STRUGGLED TO JUST SECURE EMPLOYMENT UNTIL I FOUND
MYSELF IN THE NONPROFIT SECTOR,
REALLY BEING ABLE TO USE MY
BACKGROUND AS AN EXPERIENCE,
WHERE FOLKS SAW THAT AS AN ADDED
VALUE TO DO THE WORK THAT I WAS DOING. SOLEDAD: WHAT DOES CHASING 23
DO, YOUR NONPROFIT? DARIUS: YES. WE ARE A MENTOR ORGANIZATION
SUPPORTING BOYS, YOUNG MEN OF
COLOR, AND REALLY JUST CREATE A
SPACE FOR THEM TO BE, THRIVE,
AND GROW. TO JUST KNOW THAT THEY COULD BE
MORE THAN ENTERTAINERS, BE MORE
THAN INMATES, RIGHT. THAT THEY CAN BE WHATEVER THEY
ASPIRE TO BE. SO IT’S REALLY ABOUT CHASING
YOUR GREATEST, IS REALLY ABOUT
SHOWING UP AND BEING PHENOMENAL
IN ANY AREA OF YOUR LIFE. SOLEDAD: WHY WORRY ABOUT GETTING
YOUR CONVICTION EXPUNGED? DARIUS: YEAH. SOLEDAD: YOU’VE GONE ON WITH
YOUR LIFE. DARIUS: YEAH. SOLEDAD: YOU’VE GOT YOUR COLLEGE
DEGREE, YOU RUN A NONPROFIT. IT’S SUCCESSFUL. DARIUS: YEAH. SOLEDAD: WHY DOES IT MATTER? DARIUS: FOR A FEW THINGS, I
THINK. SO, FOR ME, I LOOK AT CHANGE
THAT I WANT TO MAKE IN A WORLD
AT A MICRO AND ON A MACRO LEVEL. I THINK AT A MICRO LEVEL, I WANT
TO BE ABLE TO REDEFINE MYSELF IN
A NARRATIVE THAT’S VERY
AFFIRMING AND VERY REDEMPTIVE. AND I DON’T JUST I DON’T WANT TO
BE A BAR TO ANYTHING. IF I WANT TO LOOK UP AND RUN FOR
MAYOR OF CHICAGO, I DON’T WANT
THIS FELONY CONVICTION FROM 10
YEARS AGO OR 20 YEARS AGO TO
PROHIBIT ME FROM DOING THAT. AND SO AT A MICRO LEVEL, I JUST
WANT TO HAVE ALL RIGHTS RESTORED
FOR ME, FROM EVERYTHING FROM
VOTING TO, YOU KNOW,
OPPORTUNITIES TO GROW. BUT AT A MACRO LEVEL, JUST TO
SHAPE THE NARRATIVE AND LET
FOLKS KNOW THAT WE AREN’T ONE
PERSON, ABOUT ONE MISTAKE, BUT
WE ARE ONE PERSON WITH A BUNCH
OF DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES. SOLEDAD: DARIUS BELLINGER,
THANKS SO

Maurice Vega

1 Response

  1. It is definitely NOT the first state to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana. That was Colorado and Washington State in 2014.

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