Medical vs Recreational Cannabis
While we can agree that safe access to cannabis for all Americans remains the common goal, it’s unfortunate that its implementation has been divided into two very distinct tribes – medical and recreational cannabis. To better explain this distinction, we will yield to the grandfather of legal cannabis, Steve DeAngelo:
Since the passage of legalization in Colorado and Washington, the term “recreational use” has become the catchall phrase to describe all consumption of cannabis that is not “medical.” Lacking any commonly accepted definition, “recreational use” has in effect become a code word to describe “just getting high”—or intoxication. This is unfortunate, because the phrase just obscures more than it illuminates, and it perpetuates misconceptions about cannabis that have kept it illegal for decades.
This is a problem because it assumes that people can only use cannabis for one of two reasons – as a medicine for chronic illness or as an intoxicant to excite and/or confuse to the point where physical and mental control is markedly diminished. When in fact, cannabis provides a myriad of unique of benefits that are mistakenly characterized as “getting high.” Steve goes on to explain:
These include its ability to extend patience and promote self-examination; to awaken a sense of wonder and playfulness, and openness to spiritual experience; to enhance the flavor of meal, the sound of music, or the sensitivity of a lover’s touch; to open the mind and inspire creativity; to bring poetry to language and spontaneity to a performer; to catalyze laughter, facilitate friendship, and bridge human differences.
Neither “medical” nor “recreational” use accurately describes the above benefits – the reasons most people use cannabis. Defining cannabis use as purely recreational furthers the negative stigma surrounding its consumption and undermines the tangible benefits provided by the plant. That’s why Steve argues that the vast majority of cannabis use is really for wellness purposes. That is to say that most people, whether they realize it or not, are actually using cannabis to contribute to overall well-being and to reach increased levels of health.
The irony is that the medical program in Washington has been completely disbanded. Why? Money. Well, taxes to be specific. There is so much money to be made in recreational sales that both the state government and the recreational business owners lobbied to remove the state’s medical program altogether, which isn’t subject to the same high taxes.
What does this mean for you?
The division of legal cannabis into two distinct markets (three if you count the black market) has profound consequences for both consumers and the local communities. In a split market, quality suffers, costs rise, and service lags.
Simply put, the medical market commands higher quality cannabis and more innovative products. Because the medical market was established years before the recreational one, the cultivators on the medical side are among the most skilled and passionate in the world. They took huge risks to produce legal, high quality products that became the standard among medical consumers. Alternatively, the recreational markets rely on tourists and uninformed locals to purchase their sub-par goods without knowing any better. As immoral as this may sound, it happens everyday in legalized states.
As we touched on above, the recreational market charges taxes that are nearly double those on the medical side. As you might imagine, this means the state has an inherently greater interest in recreational sales, which bring in significantly more tax revenue that medical sales. Furthermore, recreational cannabis dispensaries can charge more knowing that the people shopping there do not have a medical card enabling them to purchase at lower prices.
Most medical patients get treated with compassion and dignity. With recreational sales, the primary goal is getting you in and out as quickly as possible. The focus has shifted from providing quality care, to serving as many customers as possible. In general, recreational bud tenders are not focused on educating you or providing honest recommendations – they are pushed to serve sub-par cannabis at above average prices. For this reason, it’s important to educate yourself before entering the dispensary.
Following the demise of medical cannabis in Washington, we have seen over 300 dispensaries shut down; a mass exodus of talented growers and processors; and an outcry from medical patients who cannot source or afford the products they need. How is this fair to those with chronic illness that relied on the lower taxes and higher quality products for wellness? They literally don’t have the option to purchase what they need in a recreational dispensary and are forced to turn to the black market for products they once purchased in a legal medical shop.
In Colorado, both the medical and recreational markets continue to exist; however, the medical market is actually helping supply the black market unintentionally. People can go into a legal medical shop, purchase cannabis at a lower price (save 15+% in taxes alone), and then turn around and sell the same weed on Craigslist for a lower price than the recreational shops (while still making a profit). This unwarranted distinction between uses causes a price disparity that literally helps supply the black market.
Cannabis for Wellness
It’s time to reclassify cannabis as a wellness product as opposed to a medical or recreational drug.
This means avoiding phrases like “get high” that perpetuate the intoxicant/recreational classification. Does this mean you absolutely have to get a medical card? No, but it does mean voting with your dollar to support the few cannabis shops focused on product quality, service, and user experience as opposed to those that only care about the bottom line. Unfortunately, the recreational market will continue to cut corners until it reaches a point where consumers refuse to pay for that substandard level of service and product quality.
As more states vote on legalization initiatives, it’s important to understand what the measure entails, how the policy will be implemented, and what that means for you and your community. Do not assume that ALL legalization measure written to your benefit.