Pharmacy U

Shoppers Drug Mart applies to distribute medical marijuana


It’s official! Canada’s largest pharmacy chain has applied to become a distributor of medical marijuana, in a move that had been widely expected.


By Jane Auster

As Shoppers Drug Mart spokesperson Tammy Smitham wrote in an email: “As we have indicated in the past, we believe that allowing medical marijuana to be dispensed through pharmacy would increase access, safety, quality and security for the thousands of Canadians who use the drug as part of their medication therapy. We have applied to be a licensed producer strictly for the purposes of distributing medical marijuana. We have no intention of producing medical marijuana, but we do want the ability to dispense medical marijuana to our patients in conjunction with counselling from a pharmacist and we are hopeful that the Government of Canada will embrace that opportunity for enhanced patient care.”

Shoppers had been widely rumoured to be making plans to distribute medical marijuana. At the annual meeting of parent Loblaw Companies Ltd. In May, chairman Galen G. Weston said, “We’re an industry that is extremely effective at managing controlled substances. It gives pharmacists the opportunity to work directly in real time with patients as opposed to doing it through the mail, working on their doses and making sure it actually has the therapeutic effect that it is intended to have.”

Earlier this year, the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association, of which Shoppers Drug Mart is a member, also weighed in on the possibility of pharmacies becoming the distribution channel for medical marijuana.

“As experts in medication and medication management, our members’ pharmacists help prescribers and patients alike get the best results from their prescription medications,” said Justin Bates. “That expertise can include therapeutic substitution, as well as counselling on dosage, frequency, delivery route and when to take medications in relation to meals, as well as practical advice on safe product handling and disposal.

“Neighbourhood pharmacies also have sophisticated drug-interaction and dispensing software systems available to monitor patients and track medication use, and to identify and prevent potentially harmful drug interactions. Like many other therapeutic products, medical marijuana is known to have serious side effects and potential interactions.

“Canada’s neighbourhood pharmacies benefit from an established distribution system that already handles controlled substances safely and reliably, so this is another important argument in favour of routing any potential sale of medical marijuana through pharmacies. In-store, our members use sophisticated inventory management practices to safeguard stocks of controlled substances, as well as to prevent and detect product diversions or theft.”

At this time, no other Canadian pharmacy chains have tossed their hat in the ring to distribute medical marijuana, but that could change once the federal government passes new legislation.