Canada’s more than 300,000 medical cannabis patients now have a new ally when filling their prescriptions. In September, Health Canada approved Shoppers Drug Mart’s application to become a licensed producer (LP) of medical cannabis under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).

The approval paved the way for Canada’s largest drugstore chain to fill medical cannabis prescriptions through the mail. Currently under the ACMPR, all patients receive their prescription in the mail, direct from an LP.

“Medical cannabis is just like every other prescription and requires the same level of counsel from a healthcare professional”

– Theresa Firestone

The Health Canada decision is a major coup for Shoppers, which operates 1,300 stores under the Shoppers and Pharmaprix banners and fills more than $1 billion worth of prescriptions each year. It has long claimed that pharmacists are best positioned to dispense medical cannabis because of both their existing infrastructure and their expertise with controlled substances.

“Medical cannabis is just like every other prescription and requires the same level of counsel from a healthcare professional,” says Theresa Firestone, senior vice president, healthcare businesses, Shoppers Drug Mart. “As medical cannabis is increasingly prescribed to Canadians for its therapeutic benefits, our goal is to enhance the service and support that patients receive through this process.”

It is an assertion backed by the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA), which states: “As medication experts, pharmacists are best equipped to provide clinical advice to patients and appropriate oversight in the safe management and dispensing of medical cannabis.”

There are approximately 42,500 licensed pharmacists in Canada, according to the CPhA. 

Shoppers strongly recommends that all patients speak to their physician or pharmacist when adding a new treatment, noting that all of its pharmacists have been provided with the appropriate training around dispensing medical cannabis.

The company says that its entry into the medical cannabis market also provides patients with “trusted support” from a more than 50-year-old pharmacy brand, as well as access to numerous cannabis brands with a single medical document.

Currently, patients have a medical document with a single LP, which restricts them to products that the LP has available. “This will be exciting for many patients and represents a significant change in the market,” says Firestone. 

Despite the Health Canada approval, Shoppers Drug Mart owner Loblaw Companies Ltd. says it has no intention of becoming a medical cannabis producer. Instead, the company has partnered with a long list of LPs: Aphria, Aurora Cannabis, Broken Coast, CanniMed, Emblem, MedReleaf (subsequently acquired by Aurora), Starseed, Tilray Canada and WeedMD Rx. 

The recent LP designation is further evidence of Shoppers’ ambition to become a significant player in the fast-growing medical cannabis market. Earlier this year the company announced a partnership with Manulife Financial on a medical cannabis program available to both individuals and participating group benefits plans.

Under the agreement, specially trained pharmacists will support Manulife customers approved for medical marijuana coverage, providing advice on the different strains of marijuana and how to take them. 

While health groups such as the Canadian Medical Association and CPhA are divided on their opinions of medical marijuana, advocates say there is a growing body of evidence suggesting its efficacy in treating chronic pain and symptoms stemming from chemotherapy. 

For more information, see Shoppers Drug Mart new site devoted to medical cannabis.