In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) into law. MRTA, among other things, legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and over. Moreover, MRTA outlined a broad regulatory structure through which recreational marijuana will be cultivated, distributed, sold, and consumed. MRTA also permits individuals to grow cannabis plants at home, subject to certain regulations and limitations. Since marijuana remains illegal under federal narcotics law (see Controlled Substance Act, 21 U.S.C. 812), large questions loomed for New York attorneys as to whether they could provide legal services to the wide-range of clients that are already (or plan to be) engaged in activities authorized by MRTA and/or for attorneys to otherwise engage in conduct permitted under MRTA, which would be illegal under federal law.
While the New York Rules of Professional Conduct (NYRPC) have not been revised to address the potential impacts of MRTA on the legal profession, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Committee on Professional Ethics (the Committee) recently issued Opinion 1225, offering some clarity on these critical issues. In broad strokes, the Committee opined that New York attorneys can participate, both professionally and personally, in conduct permitted under MRTA, without running afoul of their ethical obligations. Opinion 1225 provides welcome guidance not only to attorneys practicing within the state, but also to a burgeoning industry looking for legal guidance in navigating the rigorous regulatory minefields that come with state level legalization of marijuana.