Is there a difference between medical and recreational cannabis?

NamasteMD

Despite the passing of The Cannabis Act last year it seems like patients and recreational users are still having difficulty navigating new regulations. We know this because one of the most common questions we hear is whether or not there’s a difference between medical and recreational cannabis. That’s why we decided to write up a post that neatly summarized all those differences for you. 

Read on to learn more about how medical and recreational cannabis differ, nuances in cannabis laws by region and regulations regarding homegrows. 

Accessibility & Price 

The public demand for cannabis has been extremely powerful, so much so that there have been shortages in supply since the first week of legalization. These issues in supply, in turn, affect the hours of local cannabis stores. Some stores have even taken to restricting their hours in response to the shortage. Other areas like New Brunswick briefly closed off 12 of their 20 stores due to supply issues. 

Recreational cannabis users are ultimately at the mercy of public demand. Medical users, however, have steady access to cannabis sold by licensed producers (LPs). This access is generally unfettered by supply issues. As such the pricing for medical cannabis is more stable as it isn’t affected by shortages and subsequent inflation. 

Medical cannabis can often also be less expensive than recreational cannabis. It’s also tax deductible and can even be covered by select insurance plans. Some clinics also offer compassionate care programs to make medical cannabis even more affordable for financially challenged patients. 

Age

The Cannabis Act states that the legal age for recreational cannabis consumption is 19. Alberta and Quebec have lowered this age to 18.

One significant distinction here between medical and recreational users is there’s no minimum age for medical consumption. Medical cannabis is allowed for qualifying conditions for residents under the age of 18, provided it’s prescribed by a doctor, of course.

Cannabinoid content

Another difference between medical and recreational cannabis is in the cannabinoid content. 

Recreational cannabis users use cannabis differently than medical patients. Their primary goal is to use cannabis for amusement or to simply let loose. As such these types of consumers tend to look for cannabis varieties that are high in THC. 

Medical cannabis, on the other hand, is often CBD-rich. These varieties can also differ in their THC content. Hemp, for instance, contains virtually no THC (<0.3%). Other varieties are said to be balanced and these can contain both THC and CBD. Some patients prefer CBD-rich strains as these tend to confer the greatest possible health benefit.

Therapeutic effect

Another difference between the two types of cannabis boils down to therapeutic effect. Are you looking for a strain to help manage a particular symptom? If so you’ll want to opt in through the medical system as retail stores are unable to give you medical advice. 

You can also get specialty care advice from your healthcare provider. They can point you to cannabis varieties specifically geared towards managing a particular condition or symptom. 

The mandatory testing LPs are subject to ensures patients have access to medicine that’s consistent in its cannabinoid and terpene profile. This is especially crucial for patients as small changes in batches can have profound effects on the therapeutic potential of a cannabis product.

Growing your own cannabis

The Cannabis Act states that recreational users can legally grow up to 4 plants per household, though these laws can vary by province. Growing plants was banned in Quebec until recently when the Québec Superior Court found the practice to be unconstitutional. Growing at home is still banned in Manitoba though those laws may be subject to change.

Patients can grow an amount of cannabis that’s specifically based on their medical needs. The number of plants that can be grown is determined by a formula established in Part 14 of the Cannabis Regulations, with the daily amount authorized by your physician. Health Canada even has a plant storage and limit calculator you can access online here

Patients can also designate someone else to grow their cannabis for them. Recreational users can not share growing privileges, i.e. they can not assign someone else to grow their plants for them.

Public consumption

The laws around public consumption vary depending on your province. These types of laws tend to fall into two categories. The first is a tobacco equivalent policy that allows you to smoke/vape cannabis anywhere you can smoke tobacco, provided it’s not a public space where children can be found. This is the current reigning policy in Ontario.

Another version of the policy bans cannabis use in any public place, restricting it to only private residences. This policy can be found in Prince Edward Island. Other areas, like Quebec, have even stricter regulations. Smoking cannabis is fine in Montreal but could get you banned with a hefty fine in Quebec City. 

Medical patients are subject to the same laws here as recreational patients. They do, however, likely have more leeway than recreational users when it comes to use. Health Canada also stipulates that, “Those authorized to access cannabis for medical purposes must be prepared to show they are legally allowed to possess more than 30 grams (or equivalent) in public, if requested by law enforcement.” This can be done simply by showing your medical cannabis documentation, which is why it’s a good idea for patients to carry those papers with them when consuming publicly.