The Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Immigrants

IDP Celebrates Passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act

On March 30, 2021, the New York legislature reversed years of harmful criminalization by passing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which creates a legal recreational marijuana market in New York. For years, New York marijuana convictions have caused immeasurable harm to immigrant communities and fueled the disproportionate arrests of Black and Latinx New Yorkers.

Understanding the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)

Marijuana convictions—no matter how old or how small—can disqualify a person from immigration status or be the basis of their deportation. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) will addresses this issue by legalizing recreational marijuana in New York and creating a pathway to vacate past marijuana convictions. By passing the MRTA, New York State ensures effective marijuana reform for all New Yorkers, including immigrants, while using the additional tax revenue to invest in the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

New York’s New Marijuana Law: A Train the Trainer Experience


On July 13 and 14, 2021, the Immigrant Defense Project, the Legal Aid Society, the Bronx Defenders and the Drug Policy Alliance gave a Train the Trainer presentation for community leaders, attorneys, journalists, and others who need to understand the MRTA and its impact on communities.

Part One

  • The rights of young people and adults who possess or consume marijuana in public
  • The laws related to driving while possessing or consuming marijuana
  • Special considerations for immigrants as a result of the continued federal prohibition on marijuana use and possession

You can download the full presentation slides for part one or download the slides for part one, without the presentation tips, in English or Spanish.

Part Two

  • Information about what convictions were automatically expunged by the MRTA
  • How individuals can ensure they aren’t illegally denied housing, employment, or other benefits or services as a result of an old marijuana conviction
  • How immigrants can access a special process to ensure old marijuana convictions will not result in deportation or denial of citizenship

You can download the full presentation slides for part two or download the slides for part two, without the presentation tips, in English or Spanish.

Quick Guides to the MRTA


To learn more about IDP’s work fighting for marijuana legalization that includes immigrants, check out:

IDP’s Involvement in the Fight to Legalize Marijuana

As a member of the Start SMART New York coalition, IDP has been involved in the fight to ensure that New York’s marijuana legalization benefits the communities most impacted by the war on drugs, including immigrant communities. Marijuana convictions, regardless of their age or severity, can disqualify a person from immigration status or be the basis of their deportation. For years, IDP has been working to educate communities, advocates, and allies on the immigration consequences of a marijuana conviction. IDP helped build an inclusive marijuana legalization framework that takes into account the unique vulnerability of immigrants given our country’s harsh immigration laws that punish marijuana convictions with deportation, ineligibility for immigration status, and immigration detention. IDP has demanded that a truly immigrant inclusive marijuana legalization bill that:

  • Creates or strengthens vacatur and expungement provisions that are recognized under federal immigration law, and 
  • Minimizes the risk of harsh negative immigration consequences that flow from the criminal penalties for marijuana-related activity that remain after legalization 

In our work to raise awareness surrounding the immigration-related consequences of marijuana offenses, IDP issues Tip of the ICEberg: Immigration Consequences of a Marijuana Offense in 2018. Check out the flip-book below to learn more about the cruel impact of our drug laws on non-citizens. 

In 2020, in collaboration with the Drug Policy Alliance and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, IDP released Best Practices: Protecting Immigrants When Decriminalizing or Legalizing Marijuana. View this resource for best practices for municipalities and states looking to decriminalize in a way that lessens the immigration-related harms of marijuana criminalization.