ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York state law softens penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana and creates a process for erasing certain past offenses.

The maximum penalty is now $50 for possessing less than an ounce of pot. The law took effect Wednesday.

It also turns an unlawful marijuana possession statute into a violation similar to a traffic ticket, instead of a criminal charge.

Records tied to low-level marijuana cases will be automatically sealed under the law.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement Wednesday touting the law as a "significant step forward." He says the law is "long overdue."

Advocates for marijuana legalization have argued the law is a positive step but falls short of addressing negative consequences that come with keeping the drug illegal.