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NY State Bar seeks to educate attorneys on new cannabis law

December 9, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday he plans to visit three or four states where weed is legal. AP photo by Richard Vogel
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The New York State Bar Association has launched its Cannabis Institute, an ongoing series of programs on New York’s recently-enacted Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which has been widely hailed as one of the most progressive cannabis laws in the nation. The institute will educate attorneys, policy makers, and members of the public on the implications and impact of the new law, touching on topics such as equity, labor law, social justice and more.

The effort will kick off on Wednesday, Dec. 15, with back-to-back virtual events focused on the expungement of certain cannabis-related crimes that are no longer classified as criminal offenses under the MRTA. Though the expungement process is automatic and by law must be undertaken by the Office of Court Administration over a period of two years, it is not without complications and, in some cases, legal representation is still advised.

The first event will be a Continuing Legal Education course for attorneys interested in learning the ins and outs of the expungement process. The second will be a forum – free to the public and open to all interested participants – at which legal experts will discuss expungement in laymen’s terms and field questions. Sen. Jeremy A. Cooney, who was instrumental in getting the state’s marijuana legislation passed, will be the featured speaker.

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The CLE will be underwritten in part by Ascend Wellness Holdings (AWH), a multi-state, cannabis operator that has assets and partners in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, and is working to expand its operations into New York.

AWH will contribute $10,000 to cover the CLE fees of up to 200 attorneys who agree, in turn, to take on up to three cannabis expungement-related pro bono cases in the coming year.

“There has been significant interest in New York’s burgeoning cannabis landscape since the signing of the MRTA, and NYSBA aims to be a leader in helping lawyers and everyday New Yorkers alike get up to speed on all the many nuances of the new law,” said New York State Bar Association President T. Andrew Brown, who is also president of AWH New York.

“The MRTA has been widely hailed as one of the most progressive cannabis laws in the nation for its far-reaching equity requirements that aim to ensure that communities disproportionately impacted by the misguided War on Drugs benefit from adult-use legalization. AWH is positioning itself to be a leader in the equity space, and I am proud to be able to provide this unique opportunity to benefit New Yorkers seeking to navigate the expungement process.”

Emma Goodman, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society of New York City; and Vicki Belstadt, an attorney with JustCause (formerly the Volunteer Legal Service Project in Monroe County), will be the instructors for the CLE.

The public forum will be moderated by NYSBA President Brown, with participation by Goodman; Lynelle K. Bosworth, shareholder at Greenberg Traurig and co-chair of NYSBA’s Committee on Cannabis Law; and Buffalo Urban League President Thomas Beauford, Jr.

Topics addressed at the forum will include:

  • Which convictions are automatically expunged under the MRTA?
  • Expungement restrictions
  • How to confirm that records have been expunged
  • What does this mean for job seekers?
  • Instances in which an individual with a cannabis conviction might need legal representation
  • How expungement is different from vacating convictions

Registration for both events is required. Those who are interested can check the NYSBA website for details.

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