Medical v Recreational Cannabis

The Differences Between Recreational Cannabis and Medical Cannabis in Canada

After a couple of months of legal recreational cannabis in Canada, some medical cannabis patients may be wondering if it would be easier to purchase their cannabis from a recreational shop. Similarly, industry investors may be curious as to the difference between recreational cannabis and medical cannabis and whether the onset of legalization has led to changes in the medical cannabis industry. Here’s what we know so far.

Recreational vs. Medical Cannabis: Two Systems

First, an overview. Currently, Canada has two cannabis systems in place. Both are overseen by Health Canada. In terms of efficiency, because medical cannabis is now part of an established industry, the systems in place for licensing, regulating, and taxing medical cannabis operate pretty smoothly.

Recreational cannabis, however, has its own system. The nascent industry is experiencing growing pains as Health Canada, producers, provinces, and retailers attempt to keep up with consumer demand. This has already led to shortages, empty shelves, and long lines—and some pretty disappointed customers. However, there is hope. As Health Canada works hard to approve more licenses and producers scales their organization, provinces and retailers should have more products to meet demand.

In terms of maintaining two separate systems (albeit under one umbrella), there are proponents for keeping the two systems separate and those who believe that they should be combined. For now, both will continue separately, though recreational cannabis will continue to benefit from some of the groundwork that medical cannabis has laid down (such as postal delivery). This may be for the best, especially when considering the role that health insurers and researchers will play in the future of medical cannabis.

Recreational vs. Medical Cannabis: Products & Quality

The Cannabis Act aims to ensure access to safe cannabis and set the same requirements for recreational licensed producers as those already in place for medical cannabis licensed producers. That means from a quality standpoint, medical and recreational users are guaranteed safe cannabis that has undergone lab testing and whose package clearly states the potency of the product.

Outside of regulations, however, because medical cannabis is a more established industry, patients currently have a large selection of products available for purchase. With time, and as more producers become licensed or scale their operations, recreational users should expect to see more variety in product offerings.

Recreational vs. Medical Cannabis: Different Prices

One concern that medical cannabis advocates and companies had was whether recreational cannabis would be priced lower than medical cannabis, leading patients to turn towards recreational shops. However, this fear has so far not materialized.

Current taxes on cannabis depend on where the cannabis is purchased and includes an excise tax in addition to sales tax. This means that consumers in the territories may face higher cannabis prices than those in particular provinces.

For medical cannabis, patients recently saw an increase in taxes, which upset many advocates. However, medical cannabis continues to be sold at a lower price point than recreational cannabis. In addition, some Canadian health insurance companies have made moves to cover medical cannabis.

Recreational vs. Medical Cannabis: Different Needs

The biggest difference between recreational vs. medical cannabis in Canada is the needs of the users.

Patients using medical cannabis to manage the symptoms of serious medical conditions have different needs than adult users who smoke cannabis for fun. While both may be satisfied with the same strain or CBD extract, ultimately, the medical user requires a pharmaceutical-grade product that has been rigorously tested and precisely dosed in order to best manage his or her condition. Their aim is generally to reduce pain, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, inflammation, and seizures or to increase appetite.

Recreational users, on the other hand, while still requiring safe cannabis, have the ability to experiment more in regards to product types and doses. They technically don’t have a “need” in the same sense as a medical patient, but they may enjoy the effect of cannabis, whether it is to get high or to manage stress and anxiety.

Over time, these needs likely won’t change, however, the system will hopefully be better able to provide the quality products consumers want.