October 26, 2018

Recreational vs Medical Cannabis: What’s the difference?

Recreational vs Medical Cannabis: What’s the difference?

Biologically, there is no difference. Whether you call it medical or recreational use, you are using the exact same flowers and cannabinoids either way. In fact, all cannabis that is sold as medical or recreational in Canada is produced by the same Licensed Producers. You will see some (but not all) of the same strains in both medical and recreational stores.

Legally there is a very big difference – and many differences at that! Let’s take a look at how Canada’s and Ontario’s laws categorize and regulate recreational versus medical cannabis.

The Cannabis Act vs the ACMPR

The Cannabis Act:

The Cannabis Act is Canada’s federal regulations for recreational cannabis. Each province has its own provincial laws and regulations that may differ from The Cannabis Act, but those laws can only impose more regulations not less. For example The Cannabis Act regulates that the legal age for consumption of recreational cannabis is 18 years of age and some provinces (Ontario is one of them) have set their own minimum age of 19. As well, every municipality will be able to impose their own additional regulations and even opt out of recreational cannabis dispensaries.


The ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations) is Canada’s federal regulations for medical cannabis. There are no provincial or municipal changes to this law.

Is there a price difference?

Recreational: Yes, recreational cannabis carries both a federal excise tax and some provinces are increasing the sales tax rate, just like cigarettes. The excise tax is $1 per gram or 10%, whichever is higher. The provinces that are increasing their sales tax are: Alberta at 16.8%, Nunavut at 19.3%, Ontario at 3.9%, and Saskatchewan at 6.45%.

Medical: While the excise tax still applies to medical cannabis, most LP’s will absorb the tax. The provincial increases in sales tax will apply to medical cannabis. Additionally, medical cannabis is tax deductible as a medical expense just like prescription glasses or a dental cleaning.

What’s the minimum age?

Recreational: The minimum age is 19 for recreational cannabis use in Ontario. It is 18 federally, and all provinces can set their own minimum age at 18 or higher.

Medical: There is no lower age limit for medical cannabis prescriptions.

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Where can I buy it?

Recreational: the only legal way to purchase cannabis in Ontario is through the OCS online store. It will be active on October 17th, 2018. Ontario plans to have independent dispensaries legal and operational for April 1, 2019 so Ontarians can purchase legal cannabis in person.

Medical: You can purchase medical cannabis from any Licenced Producer in Canada. You can change LP’s at any time and you can split your prescription between LP’s if your practitioner is willing.

Can you take it outside of Canada?

No, neither medical or recreational cannabis can be taken outside of Canada. There are some countries that you can apply to transfer your prescription and purchase their medical cannabis while travelling.

You cannot bring medical or recreational cannabis into Canada either.

Where can you use it? In your own home, publicly?

Recreational: You can smoke cannabis anywhere smoking is currently allowed. You can consume cannabis in your home, as long as you abide by your buildings bylaws.

  • Private residences – this does not include residences that are also workplaces (e.g. long-term care and/or retirement homes) although smoking/vaping can be allowed in controlled areas within those types of residences
  • Many outdoor public places (e.g. sidewalks, parks)
  • Designated guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns
  • Residential vehicles and boats that meet certain criteria (e.g. have permanent sleeping accommodations and cooking facilities, and are parked or anchored)
  • Scientific research and testing facilities (if the cannabis use is for scientific research and testing purposes)


Smoking laws will still apply to medical cannabis, so you can smoke anywhere that smoking is allowed, the same as for recreational cannabis.

What are the driving restrictions?

Impaired driving is illegal for both recreational and medical cannabis users. Police officers will be authorized to use oral fluid screening devices at roadside. Once a federally approved device is available, Ontario will implement the use of those devices. The definition of impairment will align with the current guidelines for impaired driving.

Note that there will be zero tolerance in effect for commercial drivers.

Where can you carry it?

Recreational users can carry up to 30 grams on their person. You can purchase and consume recreational cannabis in any province or territory you are in  but will be bound to follow their unique regulations.

Medical cannabis patients can carry up to 30 grams on their person anywhere in Canada as well as carry it.


Who can you share it with?

Recreational: Up to 30 grams of cannabis can be shared with other adults 18 or older so long as it is free of charge (you can’t sell it, even at a loss!)

Medical: It is your prescription medication so you cannot share your cannabis with anyone at any time.

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Further Reading:

Want more information on cannabis in Canada, responsible use, and more? We’ve gathered some informative links:

Want to know more about each province and territories regulations?

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Stay tuned for the rest of Cannabis Supply Co.’s educational series on all things cannabis!

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