On March 31st, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) and, in doing so, New York joins 14 other states in which the recreational use of small amounts of cannabis has already been legalized. L. 2021, Ch. 92, eff. March 31, 2021. In changing existing marihuana laws, the legislature attempted to correct what it viewed as a wasteful use of law enforcement resources that disproportionately had an impact on the lives of minority communities.

The MRTA establishes the Office of Cannabis Management, the Cannabis Control Board, and a 13-member Advisory Board; all of these entities will regulate, control, license and eventually oversee the retail marihuana industry in New York. This column, however, will review aspects of the new law that relate to the criminal justice system: changes in criminal penalties, automatic expungement and sealing of certain convictions; the vacatur of other convictions; the impact on searches of automobiles; and the effect on impaired driving cases.