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Delta THC | MMJ

Medical VS Recreational Weed: Isn’t It All Cannabis?

Dr Abraham Benavides


Dr Abraham Benavides

Medical Doctor

To date, 37 states have legalized medical cannabis and 18 states have legalized recreational marijuana. Due to the variation in state laws, people often think recreational and medical cannabis are vastly different. 

But, at face value, they aren’t. Both types of cannabis are, well, cannabis. In this post, we’ll describe some key differences to help you distinguish between the two.

We’ll begin by differentiating both recreational marijuana and medical cannabis along with the history of recreational and medical marijuana. 

Keep reading for the main differences between medical VS recreational marijuana.

United States Marijuana Legalization History

When cannabis came onto the legal scene, the U.S. government created the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970. This placed marijuana in the Schedule I class of drugs. 

It was considered to be highly addictive and absent of any accepted medical benefits. 

Cannabis then became a controlled substance, illegal to have, consume, or distribute. This put marijuana in the same class as heroin and LSD.

But in 1996 that designation was about to change, at least at the state level. 

For the first time, there was a distinction between medical and recreational cannabis. In a landmark ballot, California became the first state to enact a law that legalized medical marijuana: Prop 215

Prop 215 allowed medical users with a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana. Qualified patients were exempt from facing criminal penalties. 

As of April 2022, 37 states and 4 US territories have legalized medical marijuana.

In 2012 Colorado and Washington were the first states who legalized recreational cannabis for adult use. Currently, there are 18 states that allow for adult recreational marijuana use.

We are now on the cusp of decriminalizing weed at the federal level. 

In April 2022 the House of Congress passed the MORE Act to remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the CSA. 

If passed into law, the MORE Act would decriminalize the use of cannabis regardless if it is used for medical purposes or not. It is now in the hands of the Senate to either pass or reject the MORE act. 

All in all, medical marijuana patients may soon find weed becoming accessible in all 50 states.

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Medical Marijuana Benefits

Although the government declared that cannabis has no medical benefits, many scientific professionals and users believe otherwise.

 It has been hard for medical professionals to examine the effects of marijuana due to the imposed legal restrictions. Often, claims cannot be scientifically proven since it is unlawful to study.

Despite its legal status, there’s some research that suggests encouraging outcomes. Medical cannabis is believed to be beneficial in treating certain conditions. Some of these include:

Always consult a physician before using medical marijuana and to discuss the differences between medical VS recreational cannabis specific to your situation.

Related Reads: MMJ Pros and Cons, Is Leafwell MMJ Legit?, Is Veriheal Legit?

Medical Marijuana VS Recreational Weed

There is a common misunderstanding that recreational and medical marijuana have major differences. 

While MMJ users will need to have been approved by a medical marijuana doctor, recreational users can just go ahead and buy where recreational bud is legal. 

But, medical vs recreational cannabis is often essentially the same. They both come from the same plant. 

Whether buying it from medical dispensaries or a recreational dispensary, both cannabis products are often identical. They follow the same regulations for lab testing, cultivation, and labeling requirements.

In fact, some states such as California have dispensaries that sell to both medical and recreational consumers. Generally, both users are able to buy the same marijuana products.

But medical and recreational marijuana still have some key differences. 

The biggest differences for medical cannabis card holders are availability, cost, and potency. We’ll cover these disparities between medical VS recreational cannabis in more detail below:

1. MMJ Accessibility

Since medical marijuana is legal in 38 states, it is much easier to access. There are half as many recreational dispensaries, making such weed harder to come by if not for medicinal purposes.

There’s also a difference between medical and recreational cannabis involving age limits.

Recreational marijuana is legal for adult use, meaning it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21. There is no 21 and over age limit for medical patients.

Due to current state laws, medical cannabis is more accessible than recreational cannabis. Until federal laws change, adult consumers face more legal issues than medical patients.

Related Read: Traveling With Medical Marijuanas

2. MMJ Cost VS Recreational Weed

Recreational and medical cannabis differs greatly in price. In short, medical marijuana is usually much cheaper than recreational marijuana. 

The taxes on medical marijuana are lower than the taxes placed on its recreational counterpart.

Because it’s used for medicinal purposes, smaller taxes are imposed on medical cannabis – or even waived in some places.

States recognize that medical cannabis serves a need and that patients use medicinal weed for treating pre-existing conditions. 

Recreational cannabis is often taxed at twice the amount as medical cannabis as it’s not sold for any suggested medicinal benefits but rather as an intoxicant. 

So having an MMJ card can help you save some serious cash. When you buy marijuana, the medical VS recreational distinction makes a significant difference in price.

3. THC VS CBD Potency

One of the greatest differences between medical and recreational marijuana is potency.

The two most common active ingredients found in cannabis are THC and CBD. Strains sought by medical users often have higher ratios of CBD to THC. For example, the Harlequin strain has up to a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC.

Different ratios of these cannabinoids and terpenes have been shown to better treat specific ailments in science. This is useful for patients wanting higher CBD levels to achieve certain medical benefits.

In contrast, recreational cannabis often has a higher THC content and higher THC levels lead to a more potent high. 

Plants used for recreational use are often intentionally bred to reach levels of more than 20% THC. 

In most states, roughly 80% of weed available for sale has THC levels higher than 15%. This can be overpowering and disadvantageous for some medical users.  

When you buy recreational flower you will notice that it is harder to find products with CBD. This is because THC is the main and most common psychoactive element found in weed.

Related Read: Balanced THC CBD Ratios

4. Purchase Quantity

Another difference between medical and recreational cannabis is how much a consumer can actually buy. 

Depending on the state, medical patients can purchase larger amounts than recreational consumers. 

Having a medical marijuana (MMJ) card from a state with a medical program often allows medical card holders to buy in bulk. 

Recreational marijuana users usually cannot possess as much cannabis as medical approved patients. 

This extends to how many grams of flower, concentrate, edibles, and live plants each type of consumer can have.

For example, in California, a recreational marijuana consumer can purchase up to 8000mg (or 8 grams) in edibles per day. Whereas a medical patient is not subject to this 8-gram limit.

Medicinal cannabis has a medical justification meaning more lax quantity rules. Patients that use a lot of cannabis for therapeutic purposes can avoid running out of product quickly.

There are also local jurisdictions that may allow increased purchase limits. So it is helpful to not only rely on state regulations alone.

5. MMJ Firearms Restrictions

According to federal law, cannabis is still considered a controlled substance whether it’s intended for medicinal use or not. 

This means MMJ patients cannot legally own a firearm due to the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibiting it.

Some states have passed their own laws on gun possession but in this case, there is a significant difference between medical card holders and recreational users who consume cannabis, 

You will not be able to purchase a firearm until your medical marijuana card has expired, no matter what state you live in.


How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card

If you live in a state which has a medical marijuana program you may be able get a medical marijuana card from a licensed local physician.

But, going this route can be expensive and will require a physical visit to the doctor’s office. 

Some dispensaries even have an onsite doctor’s office which offers medical marijuana recommendations. 

But this can be very expensive and requires you to visit a specific dispensary on their schedule. 

More conveniently, most states allow telehealth providers to offer MMJ card recommendations online. 

This application process is far simpler and less expensive with all the same medicinal benefits of a card obtained in person. You can expect to pay around $200 max. 

Some states also accept out-of-state medical cards. So check with the state you’re visiting to see if yours may work there too.

For telehealth MMJ physicians, we recommend you check out Veriheal or Leafwell:

Both telehealth services provide MMJ cards and connect you directly to a board-certified physician.

They also both offer a money-back guarantee in case you are not approved for a medical card!