Medical Marijuana vs. Recreational Marijuana: What Is the Difference? When Did They Become Legal?

Marijuana, Weed, Pot, Green, Herb, Dope, hemp, ganga, hash… the list of nicknames goes on and on. Whatever you call it — and however you take it, it’s good to know what the laws are in your state about it.

If your state recently legalized it, is about to, or you’re just generally wondering about the difference between medical marijuana vs. recreational marijuana, you’re in the right place.

We’re going over the timeline of legalization, the differences, and how to access each type (legally) below.

Note: If you like in Canada, you have the benefit of buying your favorite cannabis products! A good example is that I am Canadian and I order hash online canada products every other week. It is a very simple process! 

When Did Medical Marijuana Become Legal?

States under the Obama administration were largely responsible for making marijuana legal for medical use. It started in the most liberal states and has since trickled down to bout half the US (for certain conditions).

Between 2000 and 2010, these states legalized medical cannabis via state ballot:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Oregon
  • Alaska
  • Washington
  • Maine
  • Nevada
  • Vermont
  • Montana
  • Rhode Island
  • New Mexico
  • New Jersey
  • Michigan
  • Arizona

It can take years from the date of a yes vote for medical marijuana to become accessible to the public. In Colorado, for example, it was approved in 2000 – but wasn’t readily available until about 2007.

At that time, it was still hard to get a medical marijuana card, but it’s gotten easier as time has gone on.

The above states acted as examples for the rest of the country. Public health officials watched with a careful eye to see if any negative impacts of medical cannabis popped up, and for the most part, they didn’t.

So, then came the motion towards the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Recreational Marijuana Timeline

Not surprisingly, ultra-liberal Colorado and Washington led the way for recreational marijuana legalization. It voted to make it legal for adults, aged 21+ to be able to use cannabis recreationally. That was in 2012.

It wasn’t available to the public recreationally for another two years or so. By 2014, Alaska and Oregon had passed recreational cannabis measures as well.

Given the success Colorado (in particular) has had with using the taxes from recreational marijuana, many states are now getting on board, or at least working towards it.

Recently, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, Connecticut, Vermont, Illinois, and Michigan have gotten on the recreational train.

South Dakota was the first, and so far only, state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, without first having medical use laws in place. That happened in 2020 and it’s being questioned by some state-level judges.

Is There a Difference Between Medical Marijuana vs. Recreational Marijuana?

In most states, no. If a strain (or type) of marijuana is legal medically and recreational use is legal in that state, it’s usually available for both types of use.

However, there are some states that only allow low-THC strains of marijuana for medical use, who haven’t yet started on their recreational journey: like Florida.

While there isn’t a difference between medical marijuana vs. recreational marijuana strains in most places, there is a difference in the kind of people who qualify.

Your doctor will let you know if you qualify for a medical marijuana card, if you ask. If you don’t, you’ll just have to wait for your state to get on the recreational use train. Sorry!

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