You may have heard it said, probably in a movie or TV show as some character takes an overly long pull on a joint, “Whoa! This isn’t regular weed”. This is medical grade!” Sorry to be the mythbuster here, but there is no qualitative difference between medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis. Flower is flower, concentrate is concentrate, edible is edible. But still, there are differences between recreational and medical weed. Let’s dig in.

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What’s the Purpose?

The first difference is one of purpose. Many people come to cannabis as a tool to help with qualifying medical conditions (which vary from state-to-state), like epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, side-effects from chemotherapy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and many others. Medical marijuana consumers have to receive certification from a qualifying doctor and register with their state. They may also be helped by registered caregivers.

green cannabis plants in full bloom The actual cannabis does not vary between medical and recreational dispensaries. Photo credit: Shutterstock
While recreational, aka “adult-use” consumers may also use cannabis for its potential therapeutic benefits, adult-use consumers do not need to go through a doctor to make cannabis purchases. They can simply pop into their local dispensary and find what works for them, whether it’s to help them sleep better, manage everyday aches or pains, or just for fun.

Legal Differences between Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis

Medical cannabis consumers -- though somewhat limited by the qualifying conditions of their state -- often receive benefits that recreational consumers do not.

  • Age: in some states, medical marijuana patients under the age of 21 are allowed to receive medical cannabis recommendations if a legal guardian registers as the caregiver
  • Amount: as with all things cannabis, the amount of marijuana purchased each time varies from state-to-state. Quite often, medical consumers are allowed to purchase and possess more than recreational consumers
  • Taxes: again, this depends on your state. For example, in Colorado, medical marijuana patients pay a 2.9 percent tax. Recreational marijuana, on the other hand, is subject to a 15 percent sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax
  • Cultivation: in many states, medical marijuana consumers are allowed to grow their own. In Missouri, medical marijuana patients can grow up to 18 plants. In Michigan, the total is 60. Rec consumers are also allowed to grow their own in some states. Looking at California, medical and adult-use consumers are allowed to grow their own, but medical consumers have more leeway. Adults 21 and older in the Golden State are allowed to grow up to six plants, while medical marijuana patients can have 12 plants, six of which may be mature. Registered caregivers are allowed to grow in a space up to 500 square feet
  • Potency: once again, in some states, medical consumers are allowed to consume products with higher potency than recreational consumers. In cannabis edible land, consumers in Arizona are limited to 10 mg of THC per serving, while medical consumers are allowed to purchase higher potency products

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the difference between what medical and recreational consumers have access to depends on the state. So do yourself a solid and familiarize yourself with your local laws.


If you regularly consume cannabis to deal with a medical condition like chronic pain, for example, and are an adult-use consumer, it may be worth your while to investigate qualifying conditions in your state and work with your doctor to become a medical marijuana patient.

A glass jar filled with green cannabis buds with a label on it that reads space kush. Medicinal Cannabis is available for medical marijuana patients with qualifying conditions. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Additionally, for parents and legal guardians who have children with qualifying conditions, medical marijuana laws are an important legal structure for minors to receive the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between Medicinal and Recreational Weed?

The primary differences between medical and recreational weed are 1) its intended use, and 2) those of access, i.e. potency, cultivation limits, age, etc.

What is Recreational Weed?

Recreational weed is cannabis available in legal states to adults 21 and older.

Is Medical Weed Cheaper Than Recreational Weed?

Medical cannabis patients in some states pay fewer taxes than adult-use consumers.