Cannabis (Marijuana)

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Cannabis is a plant that can be consumed for both recreational and medicinal purposes. Cannabis may be used in its plant form or as an extract to produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria. It can be smoked, vaped or ingested as a food or beverage (edibles). Cannabis is the second-most commonly used recreational drug in NYC, after alcohol.

Cannabis is often referred to by other names including marijuana, weed, pot, hash, grass, herb and bud. Though commonly known as marijuana, that term was historically used to negatively associate the substance with Latino communities, so “cannabis” is the preferred term.

The cannabis plant contains hundreds of compounds, including THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is a psychoactive compound that makes people feel high. Different forms of cannabis contain different amounts of THC and produce different effects. The more THC that a cannabis product contains, the stronger the effect. THC content is typically reported as a percentage. Unlike THC, CBD does not induce a high or cause impairment. CBD content can be reported as a percentage or in milligrams per serving.

Concentrates, such as dabs, wax and oil, may have much higher amounts of THC and may cause a faster, more intense effect than other forms of cannabis. Cannabis added into food and beverages has a delayed and longer-lasting effect than smoked or vaped cannabis.

It is legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis outside your home for personal use in New York. You are allowed to store up to five pounds of cannabis in your home.

You can buy cannabis at adult-use or medical dispensaries licensed by the State Office of Cannabis Management. Licensed dispensaries post a New York State Licensed Cannabis Dispensary decal (PDF) on or near their main entrance. To find a licensed dispensary, visit the adult-use dispensary locator.

There are many unlicensed stores advertising and selling cannabis products. Products from unlicensed stores are being sold unlawfully. Unlicensed shops do not have regulated quality control measures and standards for their products. Products sold at unlicensed shops may contain harmful ingredients. They have also been found to contain inaccurate labeling of ingredients.

Cannabis products should be stored safely and kept out of reach of children and pets.

It is illegal under state law for people younger than 21 years old to possess, sell or use any amount of cannabis. It is also illegal to sell any amount without a cannabis retail license.

Adults may smoke or vape cannabis wherever smoking tobacco is allowed under the smoke-free air laws, with exceptions:

  • It is illegal to smoke or vape cannabis in motor vehicles, even if they are parked. It is also illegal in restaurants, parks, event spaces or any business, including cannabis dispensaries. Smoking or vaping cannabis in prohibited areas may result in a civil summons and fine.

For more information on legal use and your rights in NYC, see:

Federal Law

Under federal law, cannabis possession and use in all forms is still illegal. It is illegal to cross state or country borders with any cannabis product, even if you have a prescription for it or are traveling to another state where cannabis is legal.

Cannabis products are not currently FDA-approved. However, there are a few FDA-approved prescriptions for cannabis-derived products. See the medical cannabis section for more information.

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Health Effects

The legal status of cannabis has made the study of its health effects difficult. As more states legalize cannabis for adult and medicinal use, there has been an increase in research on the benefits and risks of cannabis. However, the study of cannabis remains restricted by its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government.

The below information is based on studies that have provided strong evidence of how cannabis can impact health. However, at this time, more research is needed to better understand the health risks and benefits of using cannabis.


Cannabis has been shown to be helpful for some conditions:

  • Chronic pain in adults
  • Chemotherapy-induced nausea
  • Multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms


Some people may experience immediate, unwanted reactions after taking cannabis. These effects can be due to taking a type or amount of cannabis they are not used to, or to taking multiple doses in a short time.

These reactions, which typically go away after the cannabis wears off, can include:

  • Temporary anxiety
  • Faster heart rate
  • Impaired reactions or distorted perceptions
  • Temporary panic, paranoia or hallucinations
  • Severe vomiting
  • Respiratory problems from smoking cannabis

Research has shown links between cannabis and some health risks:

Like tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke contains tar and cancer-causing chemicals. Cannabis aerosols can also contain harmful chemicals. Smoking cannabis with tobacco may have additional risks. Secondhand cannabis or tobacco smoke can also be harmful to you and those around you.

Using cannabis while pregnant can be harmful to fetal and child development, leading to low birth weight, disruption of brain development and behavior or attention difficulties later in childhood. Health care providers recommend not using cannabis while pregnant or breastfeeding.

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Safer Use

Here are some tips to help you use cannabis more safely:

  • Avoid driving after use. It is unsafe and illegal to drive while under the influence of or impaired by any substance, including cannabis. If you drive while impaired, you are at a higher risk of dying in a crash or harming yourself and others.

  • Avoid using too much cannabis too quickly. Different forms and strains of cannabis can produce different effects and some are stronger than others. Start with a small amount and wait until you feel its effects before deciding whether to take more. Start low and go slow.
    • Some forms and strains of cannabis can have a delayed effect. For example, it can take up to four hours to feel the full effect of edibles.
    • A person’s reaction to cannabis also may be affected by their age, height, weight, health status, medications taken, tolerance and what other food, liquids and drugs they have consumed that day.

  • Avoid taking different drugs at the same time. Taking cannabis with other drugs, including alcohol, can cause unpredictable effects. If you take prescription medications, ask your health care provider about the possible effects of taking them with cannabis.

  • Talk to your health care provider about how cannabis use may affect other health issues. Cannabis may affect you differently if you have a chronic or acute health condition.

  • Be wary of synthetic cannabinoids, also known as K2. They are not cannabis. The effects of synthetic cannabinoids are unpredictable and may be different than cannabis.

  • Keep cannabis out of reach of minors. Children have mistakenly eaten cannabis that resembles food. If you have edibles in your home, keep them separate from other food and beverages. Keep all cannabis products in a secure place that cannot be seen or accessed by people younger than 21.

If you need help relating to cannabis or other substance use, contact 988. For help with smoking, visit NYC Quits.

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Cannabis and Youth

Cannabis use among youth can increase the risk of long-term health and social harms.

  • Cannabis use before and during adolescence may be associated with difficulty concentrating and impairment to memory formation and learning in adulthood, especially if used frequently and in large quantities.
  • The risk of developing cannabis use disorder can be higher among people who start using cannabis at a young age and use cannabis frequently.
  • Cannabis use can cause earlier onset of psychotic disorders for those already at risk, particularly among people who start using cannabis at a younger age or use it more frequently.

Parents and caregivers can talk to their children about the health effects of cannabis and how they can be avoided by delaying use. Give them the facts and avoid judgment.

Unintentional ingestion of cannabis by a child can be dangerous.

  • If you suspect a child or youth has unintentionally used cannabis, contact the NYC Poison Center right away at (212) 764-7667, even if they have no symptoms. In case of a medical emergency, call 911 immediately, then the NYC Poison Center for help while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
  • You can also contact the NYC Poison Center for questions about side effects of cannabis or possible drug interactions.
  • Be sure to store any cannabis products securely and out of sight and reach of children and pets. Use a medication lock box or bag when possible.

Additional resources for parents and caregivers:

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Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is legally available to New Yorkers through the State’s medical cannabis program.

People may be eligible to use medical cannabis to treat their health condition if a state-registered health care provider certifies that medical cannabis is clinically appropriate. Patients must also register with the state to be able to purchase medical cannabis.

The new law expands the eligibility of medical cannabis, increases the number of caregivers allowed per patient, allows prescriptions for as many as 60 days (up from 30) and allows smokable cannabis to be purchased in medical cannabis dispensaries. You can find a list of medical cannabis dispensaries in New York State using the medical dispensary locator.

Once regulations are finalized, certified medical cannabis program patients will also be able to grow up to six plants at a time at home.

Medical cannabis is not FDA-approved, and therefore is not currently eligible for insurance coverage. However, there are a few FDA-approved prescriptions for cannabis-derived products, such as CBD, and for some synthetic products related to cannabis.

For more information about whether medical cannabis could help you, talk to your health care provider.

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