More and more states are considering and passing adult-use marijuana regulations, which give all adults over the age of 21 legal access to a variety of cannabis products for recreational use. However, many states with recreational legislation also have medical marijuana rules in place — but why? If cannabis is available to everyone, why would certain patients bother with the long, expensive process of obtaining a medical marijuana license and obtaining product from medical dispensaries?
The truth is there are good reasons you might still pursue a medical marijuana card even if your state does have legal recreational dispensaries. Here are a few of the key differences between medical and recreational cannabis, dispensaries and regulations.
Medical Cannabis Has Different Components
Cannabinoids are unique components within cannabis, many of which affect a user’s mind and body. While researchers continue to look into the more than 100 ++ cannabinoids yet identified, the two most important compounds for users are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinoid (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is what causes the psychoactive reaction to cannabis — it is what makes users high. CBD seems to stimulate the body’s natural systems, encouraging it to improve in function in various ways. Though it is popular to pit THC vs. CBD, the truth is that both THC and CBD can be useful for treating health conditions — but the cannabinoids need to be present in the right quantities to have the right effects. Please note, cannabis is not a one size fits all type of medicine.
Because many users prefer the effects of THC, cannabis growers have worked hard to breed cannabis strains that have a high THC content. Because CBD doesn’t have an obvious effect, CBD content tends to be lower in recreationally available strains. In contrast, medical dispensaries stock relatively rare, high-CBD strains as well as strains with the highest THC content. Thus, those who suffer from conditions that require regular dosing with CBD and THC need to be able to access these products only available at medical dispensaries — which means they need a medical cannabis card.
Recreational Cannabis Costs More
One of the best selling points on legalizing adult-use cannabis is the tax revenues the plant can generate for municipalities and states. By decriminalizing cannabis, states save hundreds of millions of dollars on drug prosecutions, and states can tax the sale of cannabis products from legal dispensaries, gaining higher budgets for public projects like infrastructure, education, public health and the like.
However, medical and recreational cannabis is not taxed at the same rate. States have not been shy about imposing heavy taxes on recreational cannabis products; in fact, some tax programs increase the cost of adult-use cannabis by as much as 80 percent. Because medical cannabis is an essential health product, it cannot be prohibitively expensive; every patient who requires medical cannabis for treatment should be able to afford it. As a result, most states tax medical cannabis products at rates similar to the general or local sales tax rate, always less than 10 percent. If a user is truly investing in cannabis for medical reasons, they should acquire a medical cannabis card to save money on their necessary treatment.
Medical Dispensaries Are More Comprehensive
A recreational marijuana dispensary is hardly different from a liquor store in that it offers regulated psychoactive products to an adult customer base. Anyone over 21 can step inside a recreational dispensary, peruse the offerings and make purchases, as long as they have the right method of payment (usually cash) and don’t exceed the legal possession limit.
Yet, medical marijuana dispensaries are not like liquor stores; they are more like pharmacies. When visiting medical marijuana dispensaries, card-carrying cannabis patients wait in line for their turn to talk with a qualified budtender, who reviews their medical conditions and makes informed suggestions regarding products and dosing procedures. Budtenders at recreational dispensaries are legally prohibited from this kind of assistance. Thus, those who suffer from qualifying conditions and who are largely unfamiliar with cannabis culture can benefit significantly from the comprehensive services of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Gaining a medical marijuana license isn’t easy. It requires you to suffer from a certain health condition that is difficult to manage, to receive a cannabis recommendation from your doctor and to apply to your state’s marijuana regulatory board. For many casual weed users, this is much too much work — but if you truly need medical treatment through cannabis, you should consider taking advantage of the benefits of medical marijuana.