On January 1, 2018, recreational marijuana became legally available to adults in California. Recreational marijuana use was approved by California voters with the passage of Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, in November 2016.
Following implementation of Prop 64, medical marijuana users may be wondering whether there are still any advantages to having a medical marijuana prescription.
The short answer is yes.
California's "Compassionate Use" Act – which authorizes the use of medical marijuana in California – offers patients who use medical marijuana certain advantages not obtainable by recreational users.
Advantages of medical marijuana in California include (but are not limited to):
1. Relief from retail sales and use taxes with MMIC
Patients do not need a medical marijuana ID card (MMIC) in order to use medical marijuana in California.
However, patients who show a valid MMIC when purchasing medical marijuana from an authorized seller are exempt from paying retail marijuana sales and use taxes.
While the full impact of these taxes is as yet unknown, experts estimate that recreational users will end up paying as much as 25 - 70% more than for marijuana purchased from a medical dispensary with an MMIC.
2. No hard restrictions on quantity for medical marijuana patients
Subject to local regulations, medical marijuana patients in California may possess and grow as much marijuana as is consistent with their reasonable needs. The only thing they need is a doctor's recommendation.
But recreational marijuana users are subject to strict quantity limits. They may possess not more than one ounce of marijuana (or 8 grams of concentrate) and may cultivate a maximum of 6 plants.
3. No age restrictions on medical marijuana use
Patients under age 21 can use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. (If they are under age 18, they must also have their parent's consent).
Recreational marijuana use is strictly limited to adults age 21 and older.
4. It may be easier to find high-CBD (low-THC) weed in medical marijuana dispensaries
Tetrahydrocannabinol – commonly referred to as “THC” – is the chemical substance in weed that gets people high. The technical term for this is “psychoactive.”
Cannabidiol – often referred to as “CBD” – is a chemical substance similar to THC that is also found in marijuana.
Unlike THC, however, CBD is not psychoactive. But it has most of the medical properties sought out by medical marijuana patients including:
- Analgesic (pain-relieving) properties;
- Anti-seizure effects; and
- Anti-cancer properties.
CBD also tends to blunt the effect of THC itself, which can make high-CBD weed more tolerable for patients who do not like the psychoactive effects of marijuana.
Both high- and low-THC strains of marijuana can be found in both medical marijuana dispensaries and retail weed shops. But there may be more of a selection of high-CBD marijuana in stores catering to medical marijuana patients.
Because so few retail outlets have yet to receive their licenses and open, it is too early to say yet. In the meantime, patients who desire high-CBD strains may want to keep purchasing from a medical dispensary.
5. For now, there are shorter lines in medical dispensaries
Although the retail sale of recreational marijuana became legal on January 1, 2018, not all potential sellers have been able yet to secure their sales licenses. The government has begun issuing temporary licenses, but not all jurisdictions are up to speed.
In additional, local jurisdictions remain free under the new law to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana. Some jurisdictions may choose to allow medical marijuana sales but prohibit recreational sales. Some may prohibit the sale of both.
Even where sale is anticipated to be legal, however, it will likely take at least several months and perhaps longer for the licensing system to fully sort itself out. In the interim, retail outlets that have opened have been experiencing long lines and wait times.
These wait times will presumably come down as more retail marijuana stores open. In the meantime, however, patients may find that they have more options and shorter wait times at medical marijuana dispensaries.