New York City teachers say students are increasingly coming to school high: report

Prerolled joints
Pre-rolled joints are displayed alongside marijuana paraphernalia.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • New York City teachers say children are increasingly coming to school high, per The New York Times.

  • In 2021, New York State legalized recreational marijuana, a longstanding goal of many lawmakers.

  • But the proliferation of unlicensed smoke shops has become a major issue among city officials.

An increasing number of students are showing up to class high, and in many cases late, which in turn has created discord in public, private, and charter school classrooms, according to teachers who spoke to The New York Times.

While there is no absolute data on marijuana usage among schoolchildren, data from the New York City Department of Education showed a 10% increase in the number of drug and alcohol-related offenses in 2023 compared to figures from 2019, The Times reported.

In 2021, New York State legalized recreational marijuana, with much of the tax revenue set to be directed toward communities of color, which for decades bore the brunt of marijuana arrests.

But more than two years after the massive policy change, teachers reveal that many students are struggling to handle the aftereffects of cannabis given its widespread availability. Many instructors point to the growing number of smoke shops in the city, as well as the ease of obtaining and using vape pens, in reasoning why some kids are unable to focus once they're in the classroom.

Several teachers told The Times of kids taking out vape pens when their backs are turned to the students, as well as bathrooms and stairwells that smell of marijuana.

But given how quickly students can hide cannabis or vape pens, teachers often have to use their judgment when assessing whether or not a pupil is high.

"It really feels like this unstoppable tide that we're futilely trying to suppress," America Billy, a public high school in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, told the newspaper, adding that she couldn't tell if a student was lethargic because of sleep deprivation, personal issues at home, or potentially drugs.

Gale Brewer, a New York City council member, pointed to the growing number of unregulated vape shops in the city — using her own Upper West Side district as a barometer. The Manhattan public official said that last September, she counted less than a dozen vape shops in her district, but by March, the number had climbed to 64 shops.

"We were all saying we need social workers, we need psychologists, we need mental health support in the schools," Brewer told The Times, adding that tackling the growing number of smoke shops "was not on the list."

New York City Eric Adams has pledged to go after unlicensed smoke shops, but he has not yet taken broad steps do so, per The Times.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. has also taken a firm stance against unlicensed shops by floating evictions, but his office has not yet gone through with such actions.

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