Cannabis bud on a wooden spoon

What Does “Recreational” or “Adult-Use” Mean?

If you’ve kept your finger on the pulse of marijuana legalization in the United States, you know there are two ways marijuana can be legalized in a state: medical or recreational. Each form of legalization has standards and distinctions, but this guide is going to focus on the recreational–or adult-use–cannabis market.

  • What Does Recreational Use Mean?
  • What Does Adult Use Mean?
  • What is Recreational Marijuana?
  • How is Adult Use Different From Medical Use?
  • FAQs About Recreational Use

What Does ‘Recreational Marijuana’ Mean? 

Recreational marijuana refers to cannabis products that are sold to and used by adults for the sheer purpose of enjoyment. Adults who are 21 years of age or older are able to purchase recreational cannabis products from state-licensed dispensaries in their state. Currently, over 20 states, along with Washington D.C., have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Recreational vs Adult Use: What’s the Difference? 

The phrases ‘recreational cannabis’ and ‘adult use cannabis’ are often used interchangeably because they mean basically the same thing. Different states have different nomenclature when it comes to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, so don’t be surprised if you hear one term more than the other. You may also hear the phrase ‘adult-use dispensary,’ which simply refers to a dispensary that caters to recreational marijuana customers.

Recreational vs Medical Use: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between the two is that recreational use (or adult use) is for adults who consume cannabis for enjoyment, and medical use is for consumers who have met state guidelines to qualify for medical marijuana.

However, there are much more nuanced differences between the medical versus recreational cannabis laws.


Medical marijuana patients are required to obtain certification from a medical practitioner, as well as register with the state, to purchase medical marijuana. Recreational cannabis enthusiasts, in general, are required to be 21 or older and have a valid state ID.


While the prices of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are similar, the biggest difference in cost between the two comes in the application of taxes. Many states remove things like sales tax and excise taxes for medical marijuana patients, while recreational consumers pay as much as 25% or higher (Washington clocks in at 37%) in taxes for every purchase. .


While medical and recreational cannabis both undergo quality checks, medical marijuana is typically grown in more controlled and regulated environments. This leads to a slightly different quality of product that leans in favor of medical marijuana patients.


While many states allow for both medical and recreational marijuana sales, some states only allow medical marijuana purchases—once a patient qualifies. This makes medical marijuana more easily accessible to patients in need across the country.


In some states where medical cannabis is legal, patients can actually grow their cannabis. In the rare instances where recreational marijuana can be grown at home, some stipulations require customers to be a certain distance from the dispensary. This makes medical marijuana cultivation far easier for patients than for recreational consumers.

Age Limits

Depending on the state, some medical marijuana patients qualify to access medical marijuana before their 21st birthday. There are no such rules for recreational consumers—you must be 21 or older, with no exceptions.

Answering FAQs About Recreational Use

With states changing their laws every year, we get a lot of questions about the recreational definition of and use of marijuana. Here are a few frequently asked questions and their answers:

Is recreational marijuana legal?
Recreational marijuana is legal in certain states around the country.


What states have recreational marijuana?
As of March 2023, the states that have legalized recreational marijuana include Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Michigan, Vermont, Illinois, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Missouri. Recreational marijuana is also legal in Washington D.C. and Guam.

How old do you need to be to buy recreational marijuana?
To purchase recreational cannabis, you must be 21 or older.

Purchasing Recreational Cannabis

Fortunately, in states where it’s legal, recreational cannabis is fairly easy to purchase, provided you’re 21 or older and have a state-issued ID. If you’re interested in experiencing cannabis, find a Verilife near you and make a dispensary visit. Our budtenders will be happy to show you around the dispensary to make your first purchase.

Recreational cannabis is not available in all states. Cannabis is for medical use only and may only be used by certified patients in Ohio and Pennsylvania. State laws impact what dispensaries can and can’t sell to recreational customers and certified patients. Not every type of product, consumption method, dosage form, or potency mentioned on this blog will be permitted in all locations.