Canadians could be buying medical marijuana at major drugstores by 2017, according to industry insiders.
“Ultimately, we see it as an eventuality. We see it as an evolution,” said Brent Zettl, president and CEO of Prairie Plant Systems and CanniMed Ltd., a medical marijuana producer and seller. “As soon as you get up to a certain volume, it makes sense to sell it at the pharmacy level.”
Zettl said his company talked to Canada’s largest pharmacy chains – Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall – some time ago.
“It was a conceptual discussion. We laid out the framework of what could be done,” said Zettl.
Shoppers Drug Mart said in a statement that it makes sense for pharmacists to dispense the drug if it’s legal.
“We believe that dispensing medical marijuana through pharmacy, like other medications, is the safest option,” according to the statement from Shoppers Drug Mart spokesperson Tammy Smitham.
Medical marijuana can only be sold online to patients with a prescription. More than two dozen companies are licensed to do so.
Pharmacies can apply for a licence to dispense medical marijuana, but under current legislation the sales would have to be conducted online. The pharmacies would also have to meet stringent regulations that include things like an eight-foot-high fence around a compound.
Recent legal decisions have opened the door to making marijuana oils available to patients – making it more socially acceptable, say growers and distributors.
The oil can be consumed like any other kind of liquid medication. It doesn’t need to be smoked, which creates another health concern, or vapourized, which has negative social connotations for a lot of people.
Peace Naturals Project Inc. sells it in 50 ml bottles with a dropper.
“Some people put it in their salad and other people put it in their tea,” said Mark Gobuty, CEO of Peace Naturals.
He said his firm was approached a couple of years ago by representatives from the two largest pharmacy chains in Canada, although he declined to name them.
He said both were looking into the possibility of private-label sales, which means having the product produced under a brand name exclusive to the pharmacy.
Having pharmacies dispense the marijuana as medicine would make financial sense, said Gobuty.
“It’s organic growth (for pharmacies), a new revenue channel,” he said.
“I don’t think we’ll see it in 2016, but I know we will see them carry cannabis in 2017.”
A spokesman for Rexall said the company is not exploring any initiatives related to medical marijuana.
About 30,000 people are signed up with the producers of dried marijuana with licences on the Health Canada website.
“I think it’s positive that pharma is looking at it, we support anything that improves access to medical cannabis,” said Michael Haines, CEO, Mettrum Health Corp.
He agrees the oil format has broadened the market, making it more acceptable to more people. He said the oil is also easier to standardize because it’s an extract.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of social acceptance over a short period of time. It’s become a respectable industry. The industry is growing at a pretty phenomenal pace.”
“If it’s legal than there is no better place to sell this. It’s best left in the hands of professionals,” said Dan Dimovski, president of the Pharmacy Franchisee Association of Canada (PFAC), formed to represent independent pharmacy franchisees involved in the Target insolvency.
The Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) on Wednesday reiterated concerns about the health effects of marijuana and cautioned the government to act first with the health of Canadians in mind.
“In addition, the pharmacy community is increasingly concerned about patient safety and clinical oversight regarding the use of medical marijuana,” according to the release. “As such, CPhA is currently reviewing its existing policies to ensure its policy position regarding pharmacist dispensing of medical marijuana reflects patient safety in this evolving area.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne emphasized Wednesday that there is a difference between medical marijuana and recreational weed.
“I want to separate these two subjects because there's a discussion around medicine and medication and in the discussion around medical marijuana I understand Shoppers Drug Mart is having that conversation. That's their prerogative,” the premier said at Ryerson University.
“In terms of recreational marijuana I've been clear that I think there needs to be control around that and I have made suggestions about that in the past about the LCBO,” she said, referring to the province's alcohol retailer.
“Whether it's the LCBO or not I think there needs to be some clear parameters around how the substance be controlled and I do think that's a separate conversation from the medical one.”
– With files from Robert Benzie