Canadian Pharmacists Want to Dispense Medical Marijuana

Jay Lauren

Are pharmacists really prepared to dispense marijuana as medicine? This may soon happen in Canada, but we’re not certain the pharmacy industry is ready (yet).

Medical marijuana is available to patients coast-to-coast in Canada, through a direct-to-patient mail order system: a patient is provided a prescription from a doctor, and they order direct through one of the government’s Licensed Producers. The system works well enough (barring a postal strike), but Licensed Producers are suppliers, and not acting like pharmacists, in the business of patient management, or in any way qualified to provide drug dispensing advice.
As Canada’s marijuana laws are set to expand next year (allowing not only medical but also recreational users access to marijuana), the Canadian Pharmacist Association (CPhA) created a Task Force that issued recommendations asking the government to allow pharmacists to dispense medical marijuana. Following suit, the largest pharmacy chain, Shopper’s Drug Mart (with 1,200 locations across Canada), announced it is formally applying for a license to distribute medical marijuana.

Pharmacists

Despite the desire to manage a (lucrative) new drug segment, we’re not sure the pharmacy industry will be equipped with training to do so effectively. This lack of guidance has not stopped the Canadian Pharmacist Association from making their case in support of pharmacies dispensing medical marijuana. In their defense, they (rightly) point out that pharmacies are well-equipped to ensure security, protection of supply chains, proper storage of medication, restricting access, and establishing patient management and proper controls over the distribution and dispensing of medications and controlled substances. Their recommendations stand on less solid ground when dealing with the drug itself: “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 behavior.”
But this knowledge of potential drug interactions and contraindications does not exist. In response to our inquiries, the Canadian Pharmacist Association issued the following statement: “CPhA will be working with continuing education providers to provide the education and tools for pharmacists to enhance patient understanding about medical marijuana, and other medications that they are using for their condition. While we acknowledge that pharmacists will need to undertake this education to become knowledgeable, this is what pharmacists do for any new drug coming on the market, and enables them to provide significance guidance and direction on medications in general.”
We do look forward to the day when pharmacists can recommend suitable replacements for a (prescribed) gram of Bubba Kush. But we’re just not certain this will happen any time soon. In the meantime, while we recognize that pharmacies want “in” on a lucrative new market, we’re not certain how they will add value when compared to other retail options available.