Recreational and medical cannabis are produced for different purposes. Recreational cannabis is less regulated than the medical variety and is not tested regularly for potency and active ingredients. Medical cannabis can be an important part of treatment plans for cancer, chronic pain, and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While recreational cannabis may be used to treat similar symptoms, it is subject to wholly different regulations and business models. Dr. David Hepburn explores the difference between recreational and medical cannabis and explains how medical and recreational cannabis are handled in a legal and regulatory fashion.
Medical use of cannabis goes back thousands of years. The oldest records of this plant being used as medicine comes from ancient China, before 2700 BCE. The plant was also used in ancient Greece and India. It was recognized as a legal pharmaceutical in the United States from 1851 to 1942 when it was removed from the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) due to fears about overuse and damaging effects of the drug.
Medical and recreational cannabis are grown from different strains and have different proportions of active ingredients. Medical cannabis is grown to have more CBD or cannabidiol, an active ingredient which does not produce a high, but which has many documented medical benefits. Recreational cannabis is grown with a higher concentration of THC, the compound which produces the high. Medical-grade cannabis is grown in a tightly regulated environment and is accepted in 34 states.
Regulation of Medical Cannabis
For the use of medical cannabis, states regulate dispensaries. These dispensaries sell product that is grown especially for medical use. State dispensaries cannot be used without a valid medical cannabis card from a certified provider. The process of getting a medical cannabis card can be challenging in many states and sometimes corresponds with complex legal implications, but the drug has been able to help thousands of patients around the country.
Legalization of medical cannabis began in California in 1996. Medical legality spread to a majority of the United States by 2016. As state-level laws changed, they came into conflict with federal statutes. While most states have legalized cannabis as a medical substance, federal penalties remain in effect since it is still under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
The first push toward legalization of medical cannabis came during the Clinton administration. Many nonprofits and lobbying groups argued that the benefits of medical cannabis outweighed the possible risks of these treatments and that the substance could be used safely by legal-age adults with documented medical conditions.
The spread of medical cannabis laws came about slowly. In the mid-90s, the Clinton administration continued to oppose its legality, threatening to revoke permission for certain doctors to write prescriptions. In September 2000, a federal court decision affirmed doctors’ rights to recommend, but not prescribe cannabis to their patients.
In 2014, a federal amendment prohibited the government from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. This was an important step toward the normalization of treatment with medical cannabis. This amendment must be renewed yearly to stay in effect.
Legalization of Recreational Cannabis Use
In 2019, many states have recently adopted statutes that make it legal to sell and use recreational cannabis. These states include Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. However, cannabis is still prohibited by federal law. Legal decisions have been made which allow the states to go forward with decriminalization and legalization statutes without interference from the federal government. Recreational buyers should be aware that their purchases are not legal in every state and plan accordingly.
States have instituted cannabis control boards which are in charge of the distribution and sale of cannabis products in their jurisdictions. These boards are responsible for the safety of the supply as well as the daily operations of the shops. As well as retail shops, several states like Massachusetts also allow users to grow a small number of plants on their own, for home use and not for sale.
Medical or Recreational
Medical and recreational use of cannabis has become significantly more popular over the past several years, spurred on by legalization and decriminalization. As more people are beginning to realize that cannabis is safer than other recreational drugs, it has gained a foothold in American culture. Dr. David Hepburn encourages interested people to research the legality of recreational and medical cannabis in their local communities.