Medical Marijuana In Canada: The Pharmacists’ Perspective

Tony Coulson

Pharmacies have changed dramatically in recent years. The old-school apothecaries are being rapidly replaced by larger, one-stop retail experiences offering everything from groceries to cleaning products, in addition to prescription drugs. In spite of the rapid increase in the number of SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) found in the average drug store, there is one notable and perhaps surprising absence: medical marijuana.

As we have written about elsewhere, the medical marijuana industry is growing and Health Canada estimates that the number of medical marijuana patients will increase from the current 40,000 to 450,000 by 2024.

Today, most patients receive their medical marijuana by courier, directly from the licensed producer. And while UPS and Fed Ex may be excited at the prospect of a twelve-fold increase in the size of this lucrative market, it’s reasonable to think that once medical marijuana becomes more mainstream, it will need to turn to the more efficient pharmacist dispensing model.

With that in mind, we decided to find out how comfortable pharmacists are with dispensing pot alongside penicillin.

Today’s pharmacists are divided on the question (37% are comfortable, 38% are uncomfortable, and 25% are neutral/undecided). Moreover, those who do offer an opinion are generally tentative rather than being clearly supportive or definitely opposed to the idea of dispensing medical marijuana.   What is clear from the data is that reluctance to take on this kind of product is driven by a lack of information rather than being opposed in principle to this type of therapy.

The reasons for pharmacist reluctance in dispensing are largely reflective of the medical marijuana industry’s relative youth. Chief among pharmacist concerns, for example, is a belief they need more training on the product. Other concerns include fears over patient abuse, and a desire to better understand quality control protocols around the product and facilities in which it is grown. All these issues would be easily managed with basic educational outreach and the setting of proper protocols. The least mentioned concern is related to ethical issues around use of medical marijuana.

The retail channel will evolve to be the dominant – if not exclusive – channel for medical marijuana patients

More interesting are retail-specific concerns that hint at what the future of the product might look like. For example, pharmacists noted concerns about product theft and of not having proper storage capacity. Taken together, this suggests an opportunity – once regulations permit – in moving away from the current leaf-based product to edibles, oils or other delivery vehicles that fit better in a mainstream retail environment.

Taken together, our findings suggest it is a relatively safe bet that as pharmacists become more informed about medical marijuana and the industry is able, in turn, to address a pharmacy’s unique concerns, that the retail channel will evolve to be the dominant – if not exclusive – channel for medical marijuana patients.

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