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Differences Between U.S. And Canadian Medical Cannabis Regulations

Written by Julie Godard

There is no doubt that there are differences between medical cannabis regulations in the United States and those in Canada

Due to the newness of all medical cannabis regulation, there are many differences even among separate states in the U.S. If traveling to, working in, or living in either of these two countries is of interest, a working knowledge of each country’s laws may be helpful to stay on the right side of the law. Below we’ve broken down the basics of medical cannabis regulations in both the United States and Canada, with information on the main differences between the countries.

Medical Cannabis Regulations in the United States

Medical cannabis production, licensing, sale, and research is legal in the United States as determined by individual state laws. It is, however, still illegal at the federal level for all intents and purposes. This dichotomy creates some gray areas within the U.S. legal system that can and do cause difficulties for many medical cannabis businesses, particularly those who produce and sell controversial cannabis concentrates and extracts such as CBD oils.

Despite these gray areas, many companies in the United States continue to produce CBD oils, which have been proven in medical studies to help some patients, especially those with certain medical conditions such as severe forms of epilepsy. Medical cannabis and recreational cannabis remain illegal at the federal level. All told, there are 29 states plus the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Guam (U.S. territories) with legal medical cannabis laws in the U.S. Arkansas and Florida are currently working on their medical cannabis programs, and the following states have very limited access to medical cannabis, restricting it to low THC and high CBD products only:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In California, it’s legal to deliver medical cannabis using a car to a private residence, and beginning in January of 2018, the same will also be legal in Colorado. No other state has yet approved legal medical cannabis delivery, although some advertise it. Medical cannabis research in the U.S. has long been hampered by the federal illegality of the substance, with pioneers such as Dr. Sue Sisley refusing to give up her research despite difficulties.

In response to the massive nationwide acceptance of medical cannabis, however, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has stated that it will “increase the number of federally authorized marijuana growers” as the New York Times reported last year. The organization and the federal government, with the support of newly-minted and cannabis-conservative Attorney General Jeff Sessions, does not have plans to reschedule cannabis.

Adult legal medical cannabis use limits also vary depending upon the state a person lives in, as do many of the state laws. In all legal medical cannabis states, however, medical cannabis product lab testing is required, as is child-resistant packaging of those products. Qualifying medical cannabis conditions for patients are also dependent upon those conditions that have been approved by each state’s government, although chronic and frequently fatal or disabling conditions such as cancer, chronic pain, eating disorders, severe epilepsy, and muscle spasms are often on every list.

In some U.S. states, individuals may possess up to one ounce of cannabis, but other states may allow a greater or lesser amount; the option to have home grows and make medical cannabis oils or concentrates are also voted upon and enacted at the state level. Most U.S. states with legal medical cannabis have operating dispensaries, many of which also sell recreational cannabis, and advertising is rampant in states like Colorado, where both types of cannabis are legal. As other states rush to legalize medical cannabis, the only government that seems to be in favor of restricting legalization is the federal government, but it appears to be mainly focused on preventing recreational cannabis use in the United States.

Medical Cannabis Regulations in Canada

Canada has embraced legal medical cannabis, and Justin Trudeau, the new Prime Minister of Canada, ran his election campaign on the legalization of recreational cannabis during his term of service.

With medical cannabis already legal in the provinces, recreational cannabis legalization will come into effect in 2018, and will be country-wide, unlike in the United States. Canada’s medical cannabis program has always relied heavily on medical cannabis research, as well, while the United States’ federal laws have made it very difficult to study the effects of medical cannabis by restricting the availability of medical cannabis for studies. Canada is advancing beyond the U.S. in the area of medical cannabis research, as is Israel, another hotbed of medical cannabis research and legislation and the home of Raphael Mechoulam, the man who synthesized THC & CBD and discovered the endocannabinoid system.

In Canada, as in the United States, the medical cannabis laws are different from province to province. Starting in 1999, legal medical cannabis was available in Canada. Since then, the laws have progressed until now when licensed growers are allowed to produce and supply cannabis products including flower and oils.

The Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) governs Canada’s medical cannabis laws, and will soon be rolled into the new program, called the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). In 2018, all medical cannabis and recreational cannabis are expected to be legal countrywide in Canada.

Canadian patients can receive cannabis by mail, but not by motorized home delivery at present. While there are some minor differences between province laws for medical cannabis, each province allows the lesser of a 30-day medical cannabis supply or up to 150 grams, along with 4 plants for medical cannabis home grows. Canada also requires lab testing of medical cannabis products and child-resistant packaging, and allows medical cannabis to be prescribes to any patient with the approval of a doctor. This means that Canada’s list of treatable conditions is much longer than many U.S. states’.

In Canada, a medical cannabis patient can possess up to 30 grams of medical cannabis at one time, create medical cannabis oils or concentrates as long as it’s done without organic solvents such as butane. One major difference between the United States and Canada is the legality of dispensaries. In Canada, they are still illegal, as only government-licensed facilities may legally sell medical cannabis to patients; however they continue to operate and continue to be raided by Canada’s law enforcement agencies. In Canada, public advertising of medical cannabis products is strictly prohibited, which may help prevent misinformation concerning medical cannabis from reaching the public and being propagated as often as it is in the United States. All in all, the laws in the United States and Canada regarding medical cannabis are similar with some small differences.

U.S. & Canadian Medical Cannabis Regulations Comparison Chart

We’ve prepared the following table to present the differences between the United States’ medical cannabis regulations and those of Canada:

Is Cannabis Legal Federally? Still illegal federally, but allowed per individual state regulations Legal per ACMPR
What Types of Medical Cannabis Products are Legal? Per state regulations, legal products are different
  • Dried cannabis flower
  • Oils
  • Edibles
  • concentrates
Is Medical Cannabis Delivery Legal? Yes, but only by delivery driver in California (and Colorado beginning in 2018) Yes, but only by mail
Is Medical Cannabis Research Legal? Yes, but very limited Yes, by licensed medical cannabis producers
Proposed Adult Legal Medical Cannabis Use Limits Varies by state; see each state’s government website for more information Lesser of a 30-day supply or 150 grams; up to 4 plants
Are There Differences Between Medical Cannabis State/Province Laws within the Country? Yes Yes
Is Lab Testing of Medical Cannabis Products Required? Yes Yes
Is Child-Resistant Packaging Required? Yes Yes
What are the Qualifying Medical Cannabis Conditions?
  • Varies by state; see each state’s government website for more information. The most common diagnoses are:
  • Cancer
  • Post-traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Chronic pain
  • Nausea due to cancer treatments
  • Eating disorders such as cachexia and anorexia
  • Severe epilepsy
  • IBS
  • Muscle spasms


Any recommended by a doctor, such as:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Auto accident(s)
  • Back & neck problems
  • Brain injury
  • Cancer
  • Chronic nausea
  • Chronic Pain
  • Colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Hepatitis C
  • Irritable bowel Syndrome
  • Kidney Failure/dialysis
  • Migraines
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Post-traumatic Stress disorder
  • Severe arthritis
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sleep disorders
  • Spinal cord injury/disease


 How Much Medical Cannabis Can Patients Possess at One Time? Varies by state; see each state’s government website for more information Up to 30 grams
Can Medical Cannabis Patients Grow Their Own Medical Cannabis, and if so, how much is allowed? Varies by state; see each state’s government website for more information Yes, up to 5 indoor plants or 2 outdoor plants
Can Individuals Create Medical Cannabis Oils or Concentrates from Grown Medical Cannabis? Yes Yes, but only without organic solvents (i.e., butane)
Are Dispensaries Allowed to Sell Medical Cannabis? Yes No, but they are operating anyway
Are Medical Cannabis Companies or Individuals Allowed to Advertise to the General Public? Yes No
When Will Medical Cannabis be Federally Legal Undetermined Legal now


[Featured image credit – Flickr]

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About the author

Julie Godard