What’s the Difference Between California Medical and Recreational Marijuana?

In California, medical cannabis and recreational cannabis are both legal. But what are the differences between the two? Let’s take a closer look.

Written By: The Pacific Stone Editorial Team
Date Published: October 13, 2023

Medical and recreational greenhouse cannabis

Who Regulates Marijuana in California?

As of 2021, California consolidated three state programs (CDFA, BCC, and CDPH) to form a single agency: The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC). This government agency licenses and regulates cannabis businesses, including growers, manufacturers, labs, distributors, and retailers.

The History of Medical Cannabis in California

Medical marijuana usage became legal in 1996 via Prop 215, and California was the first state to legalize medicinal cannabis use for qualified patients. Since then, Californians have passed additional regulations that outline medicinal cannabis use.

To get a medical cannabis card, a patient must apply for a medical marijuana ID card with a physician’s recommendation. According to the DCC, physicians may recommend medical cannabis to help manage the following conditions:

  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • Anorexia
  • Arthritis
  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraine
  • Severe nausea
  • Persistent muscle spasms (for example, spasms caused by multiple sclerosis)
  • Seizures (for example, epileptic seizures)

In addition, physicians can recommend cannabis to you if you have chronic or persistent medical symptoms that substantially limit your ability to conduct major life activities or may cause serious harm to your safety and physical or mental health.

The History of Recreational Cannabis in California

Recreational cannabis for adults became legal in California in 2016, after California voters passed Prop 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). This law allows adults 21 years or older to grow, possess, and use cannabis for non-medical purposes. In addition, Prop 64 also included provisions for the regulation, licensing, and taxation of recreational marijuana.

Medical vs. Recreational greenhouse grown cannabis

What’s the Difference Between Purchasing Medical Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana?

Often, the biggest difference between medical and recreational cannabis isn’t the plant itself; it’s what can be consumed and who can consume it. Here are the biggest differences between medical patients and recreational consumers:

  • To consume recreational cannabis products, you must be 21 or older. However, medical marijuana patients can consume cannabis if they are 18 or older with a proper physician recommendation.
  • Adults in California can purchase 28.5 grams (1 ounce) of non-concentrated cannabis, 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, and 6 immature cannabis plants per day. 
  • Medical patients can purchase up to 8 ounces of medical cannabis per day.
  • Recreational users and medical patients must both pay the 15% excise tax. However, qualified medical marijuana sales are not subject to state sales and use taxes like recreational sales. There may also be reduced city or county taxes for medical marijuana patients.
  • Out-of-state patients can obtain a Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) if they meet the criteria for a qualified medical condition. They have the same protections as an in-state cardholder. However, they are subject to state sales taxes.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can I get a medical marijuana card in the state of California?

    Yes, medical marijuana identification cards are available to those in the state who have a qualifying condition and a physician’s recommendation. To find out more, visit the Department of Cannabis Control website.

    Is there a difference between an MMIC and a physician’s recommendation?

    Yes, a medical marijuana identification card is issued by the county in which you live, and each will have different rules for obtaining one. Costs can also vary by county. A MMIC allows medical patients to be exempt from sales and use taxes. However, obtaining a paper recommendation from a physician does not qualify for the sales tax exemption.

    Do medical marijuana patients have to pay sales tax in California?

    No, medical marijuana patients with an MMIC are exempt from the California sales and use tax.

    Where can I use medical cannabis?

    The laws in California do not distinguish between medical cannabis and recreational cannabis use. Therefore, medical marijuana users must follow the law on where cannabis consumption may take place.

    Looking for more information on Medical Marijuana?

    The best source for up-to-date information on medical marijuana is the California Department of Cannabis Control. You’ll find information on qualifying conditions, the process to obtain an MMIC, and more.

    Cultivator doing plant quality checks.

    About Pacific Stone

    Pacific Stone was founded in 2015 with the goal of growing clean, consistent, and affordable cannabis for California. Founded by friends and family from the 805, Pacific Stone is a labor of love. We are intently focused on delivering high-quality marijuana at an affordable price.

    As multi-generational Dutch greenhouse growers, we utilize our long history of growing to bring you farm-direct cannabis at the best price all year long. We take pride in ensuring customer satisfaction, and our flower has been consistently recognized as some of the highest quality and top-selling throughout the state of California.

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