The chain plans only to distribute the drug with a prescription, not produce it.
“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,” the retailer said in a statement. “We have applied to be a licensed producer strictly for the purposes of distributing medical marijuana. We have no intention of producing medical marijuana, but we do want the ability to dispense medical marijuana to our patients in conjunction with counseling from a pharmacist and we are hopeful that the government of Canada will embrace that opportunity for enhanced patient care.”
Galen Weston, executive chairman and president of SDM’s parent, Loblaw Cos., had previously expressed his support for the idea. At Loblaw’s annual meeting in May, he said that he believes pharmacies are in the best position to dispense the drug safely and effectively.
“We’re an industry that is extremely effective at managing controlled substances,” said Weston.
Allowing in-store marijuana dispensing “gives pharmacists the opportunity to work directly in real time with patients as opposed to doing it through the mail, working on their doses and making sure it actually has the therapeutic effect that it is intended to have,” he pointed out.
If SDM’s application succeeds, it would require changing national policies to allow pharmacists to fill medical marijuana prescriptions in stores. For now, medical marijuana can only be legally distributed in Canada via mail. Approximately 40,000 Canadians have medical marijuana prescriptions, a number that could grow as the drug becomes more accessible.
A government task force on marijuana legalization and regulation has ended public hearings and is working on a submission to the federal government. Under Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the government has vowed to legalize marijuana, while strictly regulating and restricting access to the drug. The task force is expected to submit its final report to the ministers of justice, health and public safety at the end of this month.
Sylvain Charlebois, dean of management at Dalhousie University and a professor of food distribution and policy, told the Financial Post that Loblaw may envision expanding sales to its grocery stores if the government legalizes recreational marijuana.
Analysts have estimated the potential value of the Canadian recreational market at upwards of $5 billion ($3.75 billion U.S.).
In the U.S., nine states are voting on expanding access to marijuana. California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine have ballot measures to legalize recreational use of the drug, while Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas and Florida are proposing medical use.