If grocery giant Loblaw Cos. Ltd. gets its way, shoppers eventually will be able to walk out of many of its supermarkets with burgers, beer – and marijuana.
Galen G. Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw, which acquired Shoppers Drug Mart two years ago, said on Thursday that the company is part of a pharmacy industry initiative to push for the sale of medical marijuana at drugstores across the country. Loblaw has pharmacies in many of its grocery stores, which in Ontario and other provinces have the green light to sell beer.
Mr. Weston was careful to say the pharmacists' association that is advocating for the distribution of medical marijuana in drugstores is not trying to suggest they sell recreational marijuana. In Ontario, for example, Premier Kathleen Wynne has suggested that the province's liquor stores control the sale of recreational marijuana, he said.
"We're believers, as is the rest of the pharmacy industry, that there is a compelling role for pharmacies to distribute medical marijuana," Mr. Weston told reporters after Loblaw's annual meeting.
"We are an industry that is extremely effective at managing controlled substances. It gives pharmacists the opportunity to work directly, in real time, with patients as opposed to doing it through the mail – working on their doses, making sure it is actually having the therapeutic effect that it's intended to have."
Cannabis lobbying is picking up as industry players push for a stake in the budding business. The activity comes amid plans by the Trudeau government to draw up legislation that would legalize marijuana for recreational use, putting a spotlight on the sale of cannabis.
Mr. Weston said Loblaw and Shoppers are among a host of pharmacy chains, such as Rexall and London Drugs, that want to sell medical marijuana. But the companies are letting the Canadian Pharmacists Association take the lead in the matter, he said.
If pharmacies get the federal nod for the sale of medical marijuana in their outlets, Loblaw would distribute it through its drugstores within its supermarkets as well as at Shoppers, he said.
Loblaw spokeswoman Tammy Smitham said later that the company continues to talk with "key stakeholders to discuss the opportunity for pharmacy to positively impact the health outcomes for patients who are prescribed medical marijuana as part of their therapy. Those discussions include speaking with producers to better understand a number of aspects of medical marijuana dispensing."
The association recommends pharmacists play a "front-line role" in dispensing medical marijuana. "Pharmacists are medication experts and play a critical role in the management and monitoring of medication to ensure safe and optimal use," Phil Emberley, the association's director of professional affairs, said last month.
A public opinion poll commissioned by the association this year confirmed that Canadians want and trust pharmacists to play a key role in the management and sale of medical marijuana, he said. And a KPMG report in March found the dispensing of medical marijuana by pharmacists is the best option for patient safety and access.
Pharmacists are best equipped to help identify potential problems, such as drug interactions, alternative therapies and potential addictive behaviour, he said. They can also provide patient counselling on the appropriate use of marijuana, he said.
For pharmacies to be permitted to sell cannabis, Ottawa needs to amend the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), he said. Currently, the regulations only permit producers licensed by Health Canada to sell or provide marijuana for medical purposes.
Ottawa is now reviewing the MMPR in light of a recent Federal Court ruling and the association is advocating it change the regulations to allow pharmacies to distribute and manage medical marijuana, he said.
Mr. Weston told shareholders that Loblaw increasingly is focused on bolstering its healthy care goods and services. Loblaw and Shoppers have been pushing for pharmacists to play a bigger role in providing health advice and services, such as administering vaccines and writing prescriptions.
"Technology and escalating costs are creating new opportunities to use our assets, including pharmacists …" he said. "It allows us to be a productive partner with governments, with health care providers, with insurers and patients in improving Canadians' health and wellness."