Though 1.1 million Canadians may use cannabis for medical purposes, a huge majority—some 800,000—do so without prescription, self-medicating with products purchased either from legal retailers, or from the illicit market.
For some doctors and pharmacists, Shoppers Drug Mart’s push to offer medical cannabis in all provinces may be what Canadians need to move its self-medicating consumers into the formal medical program.
After first offering its medical cannabis portal only to Ontario, and later also to Alberta, Shoppers Drug Mart (or Pharmarprix, in Quebec) has opened its Medical Cannabis by Shoppers program nationwide.
In provinces where telemedicine is allowed, patients can get a prescription for medical cannabis over their online platform, while in provinces like Quebec (where the platform is not yet fully operational), patients must furnish a doctor’s prescription. Once approved, patients can get advice about medical cannabis from Shoppers, and can use the platform to order products from 12 medical producers.
Because Shoppers is itself licensed by Health Canada, it can distribute products direct to medical patients.
With more than 1,300 stores across Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart offers a widely recognizable stamp of approval and a lane for medical cannabis normalization. At the same time, some pharmacists hope it will be a familiar enough company that patients now self-medicating will consider approaching pharmacy experts for professional advice.
Pharmacists have had a sometimes difficult relationship with the medical cannabis industry, chiefly as a result of the Canadian Pharmacists Association’s initial opposition to medical cannabis, which it updated in April 2016 when it called for pharmacists to “take a front-line role in patient management and dispensing of medical marijuana.”
Consequently, when Shoppers Drug Mart announced its intention to handle medical cannabis last year, some in the sector expressed doubt that pharmacists knew enough about cannabis.
Pharmacists have argued while they may not be cannabis experts, they are medication experts with critical knowledge of drug interactions and their mechanisms of effect.