marijuana legalization map
Recreational states are in green in this November 2020 map. (Leafly(

Recreational marijuana refers to cannabis that is grown, sold, and used for adults for purposes of enjoyment. The only difference between medical and recreational marijuana is how it is regulated and to whom it is sold. Stores that are licensed as recreational shops may sell cannabis to any adult over a particular age, whereas medical marijuana is sold to individuals who have received a medical authorization from a doctor.

“Recreational marijuana was just legalized in five states in the US”

“This store is licensed to sell marijuana to both medical patients and recreational consumers.”

What is recreational marijuana?

Recreational marijuana generally does not differ from medical marijuana in chemical content or form. Instead, the distinction between the two primarily comes down to how they are regulated based on an individual’s intent and needs.

Recreational marijuana is cannabis that is used, sold, and grown in areas with laws that allow any adult over a certain age access to it, regardless of whether or not you have a medical condition. In areas with recreational marijuana laws, the plant is treated much like alcohol or tobacco. Note that recreational cannabis laws may impose limits on how much marijuana you can purchase and possess at once. There may also be limitations on the number of cannabis plants allowed for home cultivation, and some states may prohibit homegrowing outright.

The difference between medical and recreational marijuana

Medical cannabis patients have received a medical authorization from a physician that allows them to purchase cannabis at a dispensary, typically with fewer taxes applied. Depending on local laws, a person under the age of 21 may be prescribed cannabis depending on their medical condition. Authorized medical marijuana patients may also be permitted to possess a greater amount of cannabis, purchase higher potency products not permitted to recreational consumers, and cultivate cannabis at home. 

It is important to check your local laws to understand how medical and recreational cannabis are treated differently, as it varies from place to place.

Benefits of recreational marijuana

Recreational marijuana allows any adult over a particular age access to cannabis, meaning you do not need to obtain a prior prescription from a doctor. For adults who have medical symptoms or conditions that are not legally recognized as “qualifying conditions,” this allows them to purchase cannabis without waiting for expansion of their local medical marijuana laws.

Recreational cannabis laws also reduce the number of people who are incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes, a prohibition approach which has proven to be expensive, ineffective, and disproportionately harmful toward communities of color. Recreational marijuana also provides individuals with a legal alternative to more harmful substances like alcohol and opioids.

Recreational cannabis is also an economy booster, adding both tax revenue and jobs to areas that implement recreational marijuana laws. As of January 2020, the legal sale of cannabis has added over 240,000 full-time jobs in the United States. States with legal marijuana see millions of dollars in tax revenue, with California accruing almost $630 million in 2019 alone. 

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