Shopper's Drug Mart, one of Canada's most established retail brands, has formally applied to become a licensed producer for Canada's medical marijuana industry. The pharmacy chain, with over 1,200 locations, made its distribution ambitions very clear in a statement,
"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."
The move has been seen as a mandatory step for the company to initiate steps toward a distribution-only status. While a BC judge last February ruled that medical patients can grow their own medical supply, retail distribution of cannabis is still illegal, despite countless dispensaries operating across the country.
The timing is interesting as the Liberal government is poised to receive a report from Anne McLellan's Marijuana Task Force. This report will be likely considered a jumping point and initial framework for legislation Trudeau's Liberals intend on tabling before Parliament this coming spring. It may seem that major pharmaceutical retailers have recognized the urgency to lobby their influence within the legislative process.
Along side political timeliness is a ballooning Canadian market with 75,166+ medical marijuana patients registered with Health Canada. That number has grown by over 40% just in the last quarter and has more than tripled since last year.
In a reaction to this patient growth it's been reported that a number of Shopper's Drug Mart competitors have also contacted a larger-scale Canadian producers with supply chain inquiries. Shopper's largest competitor, Rexall, has been floated as a retailer of interest in the space, but company representatives have denied these claims.
Even the Canadian Pharmacists Association has come to change it's tune from 2013 where it expressed great concern over the 'lack of evidence' supporting the use of medical marijuana. Suddenly, the association is campaigning to secure a 'front-line role' in the retail distribution of cannabis. What a difference a few years make.
As the retail segment lobbies to insert itself within a legislated supply chain, License Producers and the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association are now expressing their concerns over retail counter-fees that will be passed along to patients, as well as limited access to strain varieties for patients. The CMCIA has also called into question the retail pharmacists ability to serve patients with the insight and knowledge growers can offer patients regarding the use of particular strains.
Jonathan Zaid, founder and lobbyist for Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, has been promoting the a notion that the question of distribution is not one of absolutes but an array of solutions that deter patients from reaching out to black market means for access to medicine.
“There needs to be a regulated legal source that patients can go to in person, and that just doesn’t exist today,” he said.