Medical vs. Recreational Dispensaries: What’s the Difference?


The old stigmas against marijuana are disappearing faster than smoke on the breeze, and today you can legally purchase marijuana for recreational purposes in the state of Colorado and Washington from recreational dispensaries. You can now book marijuana tours to the Denver area. In states like California (and Colorado prior to the new law), patients have been purchasing medical marijuana for years at licensed dispensaries. So, what’s the difference between these types of dispensaries?

The basic experience is the same.

You enter the licensed, regulated dispensary, usually past a security guard. Prepare to show your ID. Most dispensaries have a waiting room or lobby that is separate from the sales floor where you find the product. Because dispensaries handle large amounts of cash and/or expensive goods, they usually have heavy locked doors that you must be buzzed through to enter. Sign in, and wait for your name to be called. Relax and chat with the other patrons, or read the latest copy of High Times magazine. Peruse the menu and think about edibles or buds you want to buy.

Next, you enter the inner sanctums of either the medical or recreational dispensaries. Before you stands a row (or several rows) of glass jars full of fuzzy green buds, each labeled with the appropriate name: Sour Diesel, Sweet Trainwreck, Wild Cherry OG, Blue Dream, Purple Krush, Woodhead Reserve, Banana OG, Jack Herer and Golden Pineapple – to name a few. (OG stands for “outdoor grown.”) Good dispensaries have bright lighting and even magnifying glasses so that you can inspect the different strains and the quality of the crystals and trim job. Don’t touch the buds, which can damage the delicate crystals – high-quality dispensaries use chopsticks instead.

Decide what type of marijuana you want (indica, sativa or a hybrid of the two) and decide how much you want. They’ll package it up for you and soon you’ll be on your way. You can also purchase edibles, such as brownies, cookies, candies, tinctures and capsules.


The main difference between dispensaries is here you have to have a medical prescription aka a “rec.” You must be 18 or over and see a doctor prior to your arrival at the dispensary, and have a written prescription in your hand. On your first visit to the dispensary, they will make a copy of your prescription and enter it into the system, along with your paperwork. Prescriptions must be renewed every year, at which point you’ll need to provide a new one to your dispensary. You can carry up to 8 ounces of marijuana, and should always carry a copy of your prescription whenever you are holding. Many doctors offer wallet-size prescription cards for this purpose.


You don’t need a prescription to purchase marijuana at recreational dispensaries. You just have to be over 21 years old and have a legal ID. Colorado residents may purchase up to one ounce at a time, and non-residents can purchase ¼ ounce at a time. If you’re new to this natural form of relaxation, don’t overdo it – especially with edibles. Be smart and smoke your stash at home.

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Image: Neon Tommy