What is Cannabis?

Cannabis has been consumed by people for thousands of years for medicinal, recreational, industrial, and food purposes. Cannabis sativa is a plant known by many names – including weed, pot, and marijuana. Cannabis can be smoked, vaped, eaten, applied topically and via suppository. It can be consumed in many forms including hash (created from cannabis resin), leaves, oils, lotions, edibles (infused foods or beverages), and in highly concentrated forms known as shatter. If consumed for medical purposes it can treat chronic pain, glaucoma, poor appetite, nausea, and many other problems.

The cannabis plant has hundreds of chemical compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenes. These natural compounds can have different effects on the mind and body. Tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol are the most common.

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol, known as "THC," is known for its psychoactive effects -- a feeling of being high.
  • Cannabidiol, known as "CBD", is the second most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol does not cause a "high" or psychoactive effect by itself.

History of Cannabis in New York State

Cannabis became legal in New York State for medical purposes when the Medical Cannabis Program was implemented in 2016. Adult-Use (also known as recreational) Cannabis was legalized in New York State when the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) was signed on March 31, 2021. This made it legal for adults 21 or older to possess cannabis and cannabis concentrate, to consume cannabis, and to share cannabis without compensation to a person 21 or older.

It is illegal to use cannabis in a motor vehicle, a private business, or any place where smoking tobacco is prohibited. It's also illegal to sell cannabis without a license. There are more restrictions and exceptions regarding the possession, consumption, and sales of cannabis.

The New York State Department of Health and Cannabis

The New York State Department of Health supports the Office of Cannabis Management in the implementation of the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act on matters related to public health and education, public safety, research, and data surveillance. The State Department of Health collaborates across state agencies to provide resources and support on drugs and for people who use drugs to local communities.

Key Terms

Cannabidiol (CBD):
One of the two most prevalent cannabinoids in cannabis, which does not lead to an altered mental state.
All products derived from the Cannabis sativa plant containing more than 0.3% THC.
Cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC):
One of the two most prevalent cannabinoids in cannabis, which causes a high/altered mental state.
Measures at the state-level to permit possession, use and/or sales of medical and/or recreational cannabis, or to decriminalize marijuana possession. Marijuana is still federally illegal.
Medical cannabis:
Marijuana or substances extracted from cannabis prescribed to treat conditions such as pain, anxiety, nausea, and glaucoma.
Chemical substances found within the cannabis plant, the most common of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Laws that do not allow jurisdictions to prosecute people for possessing small amounts of marijuana, especially for the first offense.
Adult-Use (recreational) cannabis:
Cannabis used without medical intent or a prescription.