Regulating Pot: Differences Between Medical and Recreational Use

More than three dozen states have legalized medical marijuana. More than two dozen have given the go-ahead to recreational consumption. Among the holdout states, a number of them are working on implementing their own marijuana legalization bills. It is only a matter of time before they all get on board.

The interesting thing is that there can be vast differences from one state to the next. It is not likely to change even if Washington decriminalizes marijuana on the federal level. Like alcohol regulation, marijuana regulation would be left to the states. The states do things differently by design.

An in-depth look at state regulations reveals that there are significant differences between medical and recreational rules. That’s because the two types of use differ so much.

Eligibility Rules

In most of the states where recreational marijuana is legal, the only qualification for eligibility is being of legal age. Anyone 21 years old or older can purchase and consume recreational marijuana in Colorado. The same is true for many other states. Eligibility for medical cannabis is entirely different. In order to be eligible, most states require:

  • patients be of legal age
  • diagnosis of a qualifying condition
  • the possession of a state medical cannabis card.

Utah is an example of a medical-only state. All three requirements must be met for patients to use cannabis there. A few other restrictions baked into in Utah medical marijuana law do not apply in other states.

Cultivation Rules

Another substantial difference lies in cultivation. Not all states with recreational programs allow cultivation by individuals. And even in states where it is allowed, consumers are limited in the amount they can grow. They also cannot sell what they produce. Growing is for their exclusive use only.

Medical-only states typically do not allow home grows. They tend to restrict unlicensed growing as a means of more tightly controlling the industry. Whether it works or not is another matter.

Potency Rules

Next up are potency rules. For all intents and purposes, there are no limits on potency in the recreational arena. That is why legal growers are now working overtime to produce ever more potent strains. In the medical arena however, things are different.

Most states with medical programs restrict potency. In other words, cannabis-based medicines can only have so much THC in them. The reasoning is simple: regulators want to focus on low potency medicines. They want patients to use the least possible amount of cannabis to achieve the desired results.

Possession Rules

Finally, possession rules vary from state to state. However, there is less discrepancy between medical and recreational use. States impose possession limits for the express purpose of preventing individual consumers from becoming illicit dealers. So they only allow consumers to possess so much pot at any given time.

Medical users tend to be subject to lower limits as a means of preventing people from fraudulently obtaining a medical cannabis card so they can use the drug recreationally in states where it is not allowed. Whether or not the goal is realized, patients ultimately need to visit dispensaries more often because they can only possess so much at one time.

States with legalized recreational cannabis tend to have higher possession limits, but to what end? The chances of those limits being enforced are pretty slim unless authorities have reason to believe that a person is running an illicit operation.

There can be significant differences in how medical and recreational cannabis are regulated. That is because states see a big difference in the two types of uses. But ask yourself this: given our pot-crazy culture, how much does it really matter?