Shoppers Drug Mart has announced it has entered into an agreement with Aphria for supply of medical cannabis in anticipation of approval of the drug store chain’s application to sell medical cannabis through Health Canada’s ACMPR.
Shoppers applied for a licence through the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes regulations in the past in anticipation of expected rule changes to the regulatory regime that would allow sales inside pharmacies. All sales would be online, like any other licensed producer.
After initially opposing cannabis distribution several years ago, the Canadian Pharmacists Association announced in 2016 that they are the best equipped to distribute medical cannabis.
"We have applied to be a licensed producer under Health Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR)," the public relations team at Loblaw told Lift. "We can’t speculate on if or when our application will be approved. Aphria’s announcement relates to our preparations for what will we hope will be our ultimate approval."
In 2014 Loblaw acquired Shoppers Drug Mart.
"We have been very transparent in our view that pharmacists should play an important role in the safe and informed use of medical cannabis," continued the Loblaw team. "As the federal and provincial governments finalize their respective cannabis frameworks, we remain optimistic that they will allow pharmacists in stores, in communities to apply their professional care to medical cannabis patients."
Changes to Canada’s existing medical cannabis regime, the ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations) are expected to include pharmacy distribution in the future. Major chains like Shoppers Drug Mart and PharmaChoice have announced their intentions.
However, there has been opposition from others, which has held back the inclusion of pharmacy sales in the existing medical cannabis regulations.
In July, the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) said pharmacy practitioners must not be involved in the distribution of cannabis for nonmedical purposes, and that pharmacies may not use the term ‘dispensary’ or the ‘green cross’ often associated with cannabis dispensaries.
NAPRA is a regulatory body that provides national leadership in pharmacy regulatory practices and has 14 Pharmacy Regulatory Authority members from all provincial and territorial colleges of pharmacists and the Canadian Forces Pharmacy Services.
According to some close to the subject, Shoppers is not interested in growing cannabis, but has applied for an ACMPR licence for the purpose of selling and possibly even processing cannabis into oils and extracts for a medical supply both in-store and online. Canada’s current regulations do not include separate types of licences for those who only wish to sell. They must still apply for a full licence.
"We have an impeccable record cultivating and producing high-quality, medical-grade cannabis," said Vic Neufeld, CEO of Aphria. "These traits make us a strong partner for an organization looking to serve and support Canadian patients."
Although he says he doesn't know the timeline on when Shoppers may get their sales licence for medical cannabis, Neufeld says he sees a respected national chain like Shoppers helping to help bring more legitimacy to medical cannabis through the company's continuing education courses and communications with medical professionals.
"That's the strength that an entity like Shoppers Drug Mart brings to the table. It's really a huge reach-out to thousands of doctors today who probably have not scripted, but when a pharmacist is involved in the process, they become a lot more comfortable in writing a script. And thats the heart of this whole business model."
Neufeld says Aphria plans to offer 12 different medical cannabis products for Shoppers initially. The Ontario cannabis producer will provide eight dried cannabis options and four cannabis oil options, offering an array of high THC, high CBD, and balanced THC/CBD varieties of cannabis products for the pharmacy chain.