Recreational Use and Possession in NYC

As of March 31, it is legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use in New York. Adults may smoke or vape cannabis wherever smoking tobacco is allowed under the Clean Indoor Air Act. People who smoke or vape cannabis in prohibited areas may be penalized with a summons and fine.

It is still against the law to possess more than three ounces of cannabis, sell any amount without a license or drive while impaired by cannabis.

By late 2022, adults will be allowed to grow three cannabis plants at home per person, or up to six per household (three mature and three immature plants), subject to other regulations.

The law will also allow cities and towns to have on-site consumption areas where people can lawfully use cannabis.

Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis has been legally available to New Yorkers through the State’s medical marijuana program since 2014. Medical cannabis is available to people who have a certification from specially licensed physicians for certain medical conditions.

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 marijuana dispensaries.

By late 2021, certified medical marijuana program patients will also be able to grow up to six plants at a time at home.

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

Federal Law

Under federal law, cannabis possession and use in all forms remains illegal. There are a few FDA-approved prescription medications that contain cannabis-derived products, such as CBD, or are made with synthetic products related to cannabis.

For more information on the federal law, visit the FDA webpage on cannabis and cannabis-derived products.

Cannabis (also known as marijuana) is the second-most commonly used recreational drug in NYC, after alcohol. It can be smoked, vaped or ingested as a food or beverage, producing reactions such as a relaxed, euphoric feeling, anxiety and an increased heart rate.

It comes from the cannabis plant, which contains several compounds, including THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is a psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant that makes people feel high. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce a high or cause impairment.

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.

Concentrates, such as dabs, wax and oil, may have much higher proportions of THC — 40% to 90% — than other forms of cannabis, which are usually about 20% THC. Concentrates can cause a faster, more intense effect than other forms of cannabis and may lead to an increased health risk. Cannabis added into food and beverages, known as “edibles”, have a delayed and longer-lasting effect than smoked or vaped cannabis.

A person’s reaction to cannabis 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.

Health Risks and Benefits

In addition to the health risks noted below, cannabis use also has some therapeutic effects. Benefits include the treatment of chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and multiple sclerosis spasticity.

Short-Term Effects

People may experience negative effects from cannabis, especially after using concentrated cannabis or taking multiple doses of any type of cannabis within a short period of time. Negative reactions may include:

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

Long-Term Effects

People who smoke cannabis may develop a cough, asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory issues. Cannabis smoking is not associated with the types of cancers that can be caused by smoking tobacco, such as lung, head and neck cancers.

For people who are at risk of developing psychotic disorders due to genetic predisposition, cannabis use at a young age and in large amounts may cause these disorders to develop faster. There is some evidence linking cannabis use to the development of psychotic symptoms, but it is unclear whether use actually causes such symptoms.

People who start using cannabis early in adolescence or use it frequently are also more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder.

Other Risks

  • It is unsafe and illegal to drive while impaired by any substance, including cannabis. No one drives better while high. If you drive while impaired, you are at a higher risk of being in a fatal accident.

  • Avoid using too much cannabis too quickly. You may not feel the full effect of edible cannabis until up to four hours after taking it. To avoid negative effects, start with a low dose and wait at least two hours before considering whether to take more.

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

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

  • Synthetic cannabinoids, commonly referred to as K2, are not cannabis. If you use them, the effects may be unpredictable and entirely different than cannabis use.


In NYC, CBD is prohibited in food and drinks. The Health Department is embargoing food and drink products that contain CBD, meaning the products will have to be returned to the supplier or discarded. The Health Department may issue violations to food service establishments and retailers for offering food or drink containing CBD.

If you are a food service operator, learn more about the laws on CBD sales.

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