CBC has reported that Shoppers Drug Mart, the country’s largest chain of over 1,200 pharmacy locations, has applied to Health Canada to become a licensed cannabis producer.

Spokesperson Tammy Smitham said that Shoppers applied solely to distribute cannabis and not grow it.

“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,” Smitham said.

Pharmacy groups, including Shoppers, have come forward over the last year saying that they are best suited to handle the retail sales of medical cannabis, a point contested by the country’s licensed producers.

Pharmacies have been lobbying government over the past several years for revisions to the recently updated Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations to include provisions to allow the group into the medical cannabis system.

The government ultimately opted not to include pharmacies, saying that the delivery system would be considered in the future.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association released a statement following the ACMPR announcement stating their disappointment that the government had missed  “an important opportunity to improve patient access and safety through pharmacist management and dispensing of medical marijuana.”

The same group then presented to the federally appointed legalization task force on cannabis, once again pressing for pharmacy sales of cannabis.

“Management and dispensing by pharmacists is in the best interest of patient safety,” their presentation read.
In addition to providing secure and safe access to medications, pharmacists have the necessary expertise to mitigate the potential risks associated with medical marijuana, including harmful drug interactions, contraindications, and potential addictive behaviour.”

Without express legislation to allow pharmacies the ability to sell, applying to become a licensed producer is the only avenue the businesses have to enter the market.

“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,” Shoppers Drug Mart said.

As Shoppers has stated they won’t be producing cannabis themselves, its unclear what their business model for cannabis will look like if their application is successful.

A recent poll of Canadians found that the majority favoured cannabis be sold in dispensaries, with the second highest group preferring pharmacies.

It’s unknown how long it may take for the pharmacy’s application to be approved, if at all. Since the first license to become a medical cannabis producer was issued in 2013, only 36 have been given out. 

As of Aug. 1, 2016 1561 applications had been sent to Health Canada, with 801 of those returned, 253 refused, 54 withdrawn and 419 in progress.