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Medical vs. recreational marijuana growing: what’s the difference?

When it comes to home cultivation, the line of separation between medical and recreational marijuana becomes blurred, according to industry officials.

Cannabis expert witness and Oaksterdam University instructor Chris Conrad of El Sobrante said that in terms of physiology and the compounds in the plants, the two types of cannabis are pretty much indistinguishable.

“The question is do you have symptoms of some health conditions and does cannabis help you with those?” Conrad said. “That’s where the ‘all use is medical’ has a little bit of allure for some people. A lot of people that use it for medical purposes started off using for personal use and then they eventually come to realize they can get a medical benefit from it. Once they made that determination, then at that point then it is medical.

“The law says one thing, but people’s experiences are different from that,” Conrad said.

Even those already operating in the medical cannabis market said there is no need to separate the two types of cannabis use if they are regulated adequately.

“If all cannabis product was held to a safety standard that was reasonable enough for a garden to harvest within guidelines, but still reduced potential adverse effects to consumers, then there would be no need to differentiate between the medical and recreational,” Humboldt Patient Resource Center General Manager Bryan Wilkomm of Humboldt County said. “If our food products were held to the same standards of lab testing as cannabis products proposed in the current state guidelines, the quality and safety of food would greatly increase, but many businesses may not be able to operate within the safety guidelines.”

Differences under the law

California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act and the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act both allow residents to grow their own cannabis, but do set limitations on the size of the grow, where it can be grown and how much control local governments have on home cultivation.

Lance Rogers, a partner with the Greenspoon Marders law firm in San Diego, said the major difference is that homegrown medical cannabis requires the grower to have a medical recommendation from their physician. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, also known as Proposition 64, does not require a medical recommendation, but the grower must be at least 21 years old.

The Grobo One home cultivation appliance is set to begin shipping this fall. The appliance seeks to reduce much of the labor behind hydroponic gardening, whether it be for specialty hot peppers or cannabis. (Courtesy photo)

Medical cannabis laws allow patients to grow up to 100 square feet of marijuana canopy and primary care givers to grow up to 500 square feet of cannabis for up to five patients.

“Cities and counties can further limit that,” Rogers said.

Proposition 64 states local governments cannot “completely prohibit” residents 21 and over to grow up to six plants indoors, but allows local governments to regulate outdoor cultivation including banning it altogether.

“Activity that private residents engage in inside their private homes typically has much more constitutional protection than activities outside of the residence, which municipalities can argue has something related to public health or safety or welfare,” Rogers said.

Cities throughout the state have challenged the personal grow rights in the months following Proposition 64’s passage by implementing moratoriums or prohibiting certain groups of people like those with prior drug convictions from being allowed to grow at home.

This month, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California and the Drug Policy Alliance filed a lawsuit challenging an ordinance the city of Fontana passed in February requiring residents to pay a permit fee of more than $400 before they can grow for personal use and submit themselves to warrantless searches, according to the complaint.

“Here we have a situation where it was a constitutional right passed by voters under Prop. 64 that is occurring inside a private residence,” Rogers said. “A city really cannot prohibit that activity.”

Rogers said he believes there is a good argument that medical cannabis patients can grow both their 100 square feet of cannabis under medical laws as well as a separate six plants as allowed under Proposition 64.

Growing medically

The Humboldt Patient Resource Center in Arcata has been growing medical cannabis for patients for the past 18 years and prides itself on its strict testing of its soils, plants and organic growing practices.

Wilkomm, the center’s general manager, said that when it comes to home cultivation as well as the commercial market, he hopes that cultivators refrain from all pesticides, poison and certain types of nutrients.

“Since cannabis is a plant that is often vaporized or smoke we have extra concern about home growers applying pesticides that are very dangerous when inhaled,” he said. “For some indoor growers the high cost of electricity causes growers to focus more on harvest weights than medical usability of product. This may direct growers to use certain nutrients, pesticides, fungicides or growth regulators that are not traditionally applied to food crops, and can be toxic to humans.”

Wilkomm said that recreational growers may seek out strains that have market traction, yield more buds and can be processed into extracts or other concentrates while medical producers will grow more specialized strains to alleviate certain symptoms more effectively.

Conrad also said that much of the difference between medical and recreational cannabis home grows are the strains of cannabis being grown, such as the nonpsychoactive CBD strains.

“People who are using high CBD plants, the vast majority tend to be medical patients,” Conrad said. “People using it for personal use may prefer to have strains of CBD in them. Normally if it’s pure CBD or an almost all CBD strain, that doesn’t have much nonmedical uses.”

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441- 0504.