Breakdown of Medical vs. Recreational Cannabis

Medical vs Recreational Cannabis

Laws are constantly shifting and changing across the United States, so it can be quite a challenge to keep track of how many states have medical marijuana. As of June 2021, a full 36 states allow for the legal possession and use of medical marijuana for a variety of medical conditions. Products are only available from a medical dispensary, and purchases are limited to those with medical marijuana cards. Twelve additional states have restricted medical marijuana to CBD-only products with strict limits on THC content and prohibited the use of recreational cannabis altogether. Seventeen states and The District of Columbia have medical marijuana programs and legalized recreational cannabis for adult use. 

But what’s the difference between medical vs. recreational cannabis? First and foremost, the purpose of the product. Medical marijuana is used for medicinal purposes. Recreational cannabis is used primarily for leisure by adults. The key differences when comparing medical vs recreational are potency, age, purchase, and possession quantities, taxation rates, and the legal number of plants allowed for cultivation. 

  • Age – Medical cannabis is available to patients who are 18 years or older. If you are under 18, you must have a legal guardian register as a caregiver.  All medical marijuana products must be purchased from a medical dispensary. In contrast, in states where recreational cannabis is legal, you must be at least 21 years old to visit a recreational dispensary (similar to alcohol laws). 
  • Purchase – The amount of marijuana that medical vs. recreational consumers can purchase at a time varies depending on the state. In Arizona, medical marijuana patients can purchase up to two and a half ounces every two weeks, not to exceed 10 ounces a month. Recreational cannabis consumers can purchase up to one ounce (with no more than five grams being concentrates/extracts). 
  • Taxes – Tax rates tend to vary from state to state. Most states tax medical marijuana at a minimal level. Much like purchasing alcohol or tobacco, adult-use states tend to tax recreational cannabis at rates equaling 20-35 percent or more. In Arizona, patients buying medical marijuana incur only state and local taxes. However, with recreational cannabis, there is a 16 percent excise tax in addition to state and local taxes.
  • Cultivation – Medical marijuana patients in Arizona are permitted to grow plants at their homes if they live further than 25 miles from a medical dispensary. Recreational cannabis can be grown by people at least 21 years of age, but no more than six plants are permitted per individual residence and twelve plants at a residence where two or more people of legal age reside. 
  • Potency –  Medical vs. recreational potency restrictions vary by state. In Arizona, medical marijuana patients can purchase products with higher concentrations of THC to help ease symptoms of chronic health conditions. However, when it comes to recreational cannabis edibles, consumers are limited to 10 mg of THC per serving and 100 mg per package.