Health Department Releases First Comprehensive Report on Cannabis Use in New York City

New York City public high school students report lower levels of past-month cannabis use than their peers nationwide

Only 5% of drug-related emergency department visits in 2016 in New York City principally involved cannabis

Chart of emergency department visits related to cannabis in New York City in 2016

September 24, 2019 — The Health Department today released its first comprehensive report on cannabis use and associated harms in New York City. Since 2009, cannabis use increased nationally but remained stable in New York City. In 2017, public high school students in the city reported lower levels of past-month cannabis consumption than youth nationally, with 16% in New York City compared to 20% of students in the U.S. In 2015-2016, an estimated 1.1 million New Yorkers used cannabis at least once during the last year. Nearly one quarter (24%) of White New Yorkers reported cannabis use, compared to 14% of Black and 12% of Latino New Yorkers. Cannabis use was reported by a third of New Yorkers ages 18 to 25 and a quarter of adults 26 to 34 years old. Read the full Epi Data Brief (PDF).

Line graph showing the proportions of NYC residents who reported using cannabis in the past year in 2015 and 2016.

Last December, the Mayor and First Lady announced the City’s commitment to fair and equitable cannabis legalization and released the report and recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization (PDF). The report outlines the City’s vision for a cannabis legalization process that is grounded in science and promotes economic opportunity for all.

“Estimates suggest that more than a million New Yorkers use cannabis,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “The more we know about cannabis use, the better we can tailor strategies and approaches that promote the health of the city’s residents.”

Additional data highlights:

  • Adolescent girls (16%) were just as likely as adolescent boys (15%) to report cannabis use during the past month.
  • Of the 55,785 drug-related emergency department visits in 2016, only 3,066 (5%) principally involved cannabis. These visits are ones where cannabis use resulted in adverse effects that caused the patient to seek emergency care. There are no confirmed cannabis overdose fatalities.
  • The rate of cannabis-involved emergency department visits among Bronx residents (61.6 per 100,000) is over 1.5 times that of Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan residents (39.0, 38.6, and 36.1 per 100,000, respectively), and nearly 2.5 times that of Queens residents (25.4 per 100,000).
    • The disparity by borough is also present among all drug-related emergency department visits. The rate of any drug-related emergency department visit was highest among Bronx residents (1296.4 per 100,000) compared with Manhattan (918.0 per 100,000), Brooklyn (775.3 per 100,000), Staten Island (772.5 per 100,000), and Queens (461.2 per 100,000) residents.
    • Moreover, 63% of emergency department visits with a cannabis-related principal diagnosis had a secondary diagnosis code; approximately 68% of these secondary diagnoses were for the broad category that includes substance use disorders and mental health disorders.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. said, “This groundbreaking report provides New York policymakers with the data they need to legalize and regulate cannabis once and for all. New York is already one of the world’s largest cannabis markets, but our state’s continued criminalization has allowed an inherently more dangerous, illicit market to flourish. My Office will continue to decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases, and will continue to keep the pressure on Albany to legalize cannabis in the next legislative session. I thank Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Barbot for their leadership on substance use issues and this substantial contribution to the public debate on safer cannabis policies.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “The Health Department’s study on cannabis use in our city shows what we have long known - that white people use marijuana at significantly higher rates than do Black people and Latinos. And yet nearly 90% of those arrested for marijuana possession have been Black and brown people. This is why the Brooklyn DA’s office no longer prosecutes anyone for simple possession of marijuana. I commend the City for undertaking this study and hope it will be taken into account as we consider how to safely legalize marijuana in a way that fairly addresses the harms of the past.”

“I’m glad the NYC Department of Health recognizes and is tracking the number of City residents that are using cannabis, and the tiny percentage of users who end up visiting an ER for issues related to cannabis use alongside other issues,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “This data reinforces my belief that we would all be better off with a legalized and regulated system where cannabis users would be assured of the quality of what they are purchasing and that they are not buying from criminals.”

The report uses data from the NYC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2003-2017, a biennial, self-administered, anonymous survey conducted in New York City public high schools by the Health Department and the Department of Education; the National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2003–2016, conducted annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; the National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System, an administrative database of all hospital discharges reported by New York State hospitals to the New York State Department of Health.

Individuals seeking support or treatment for substance use issues for themselves or their loved ones can contact NYC Well by calling 1-888-NYC-WELL, texting “WELL” to 65173 or going to Free, confidential support is available at any hour of the day in over 200 languages.



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