What is the difference between medical and recreational cannabis?

A key distinction in the cannabis industry — both from a consumer and retailer standpoint — is medical versus recreational. In this blog, we reveal the differences between medical and recreational cannabis products, purpose, licensing, and legalities.

Purpose and Products

In a nutshell, the purpose of medical cannabis is to relieve chronic pain or treat physical or mental health conditions. Recreational cannabis is primarily used to achieve a euphoric effect. This is why recreational products typically contain high levels of THC, the chemical responsible for the psychoactive feeling of euphoria.

The main difference between recreational and medical products is the properties of the elements of cannabis. Oftentimes, medical cannabis users want to achieve symptom-relief without the “high” or debilitating properties that high-THC content provides. So, this is where CBD (cannabidiol) comes into play. Most medical cannabis has a higher percentage of CBD than recreational products. CBD can treat many medical symptoms like loss of appetite, seizures, and reduce pain or inflammation without producing the mind-altering effects.


At this moment in time, medical cannabis is legal in 36 states, whereas 19 states have legalized recreational cannabis. This means that as a consumer, if you have your medical card, you will have more access to legally obtaining cannabis. States vary with what products are available depending on if you’re purchasing medical or recreational. For example, some states might only offer edibles for medical patients and not recreational purchasers. Taxable rates are often much higher for recreational cannabis products than medical cannabis products due to the nature of its intended purpose.

From a consumer standpoint, shopping for recreational cannabis requires that you are 21+ years old with valid ID, while access to medical menus requires the possession of a Medical Marijuana Card. In states where only medical cannabis is legal, it is imperative to be a valid cardholder to avoid prosecution for possession. It’s important to note that both medical and recreational cannabis purchases require valid ID and to check the laws in the state you’re in prior to attempting to procure cannabis products.

Business Opportunities and Licensing

Medical facilities typically undergo more testing of their products and have more stringent requirements. This is why medical products are grown indoors in a more controlled environment. Recreational cannabis can be grown outdoors in the states that allow it.

Fees for obtaining business permits and dates for application rounds vary by state and usually are different for medical and recreational facilities. Generally speaking, permits for smaller (microbusinesses) will have lesser fees associated with obtaining a permit. Larger cultivation or processing facilities will be subject to greater fees to obtain the license and permits required to operate.

States usually have separate “rounds” in which they open for various types of licenses. For example, there will be a two-month window in which you can submit an application for recreational permits. Or, applicants who qualify for social equity licenses might have a specific application round. It’s important to stay on top of each state’s cannabis news and keep these dates in mind. To have the most success of winning a license, your business plans and financials should be in place prior to a round opening.

There’s a wide range of opportunities in both the medical and recreational cannabis industry, so contact Canna Business Services to see what opportunities are currently available in your state.