- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Obtaining medical marijuana in Canada could soon be as easy as strolling into the neighborhood pharmacy. Shoppers Drug Mart, the nation’s largest drug store chain, has asked the government for permission to dispense pot to patients, it said Tuesday.

“We have applied to be a licensed producer strictly for the purposes of distributing medical marijuana,” Tammy Smitham, the vice president of external communication for Loblaw and Shoppers Drug Mart, said in a statement Tuesday.

More than 75,000 Canadians participate in the national government’s medical marijuana program as of June 30, but current law only allows patients to obtain their prescriptions from licensed producers through the mail. With legislative changes likely to occur across the board in the couple years, however, Shoppers has begun laying the groundwork to potentially become Canada’s first legal coast-to-coast pot dispensary.

Shoppers doesn’t intend on growing its own weed, but wants to be considered a licensed producer by the government so its pharmacists can fill marijuana scripts like any other prescription handled at its 1,200-plus drug stores.

“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 and we are hopeful that the Government of Canada will embrace that opportunity for enhanced patient care,” Ms. Smitham said in the statement.

“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,” she added in an email to Huffington Post Canada.

Shoppers’ filing of paperwork comes five months after the head of its parent company, Loblaw Companies Ltd., expressed interest in someday dispensing medical marijuana at the pharmacies.

“We’re an industry that is extremely effective at managing controlled substances,” Loblaws CEO Galen G. Weston said in May. Filling pot scripts in pharmacies, he added, “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.”

Canada is expected to legalize recreational marijuana for adults by 2018, and a task force has been assembled in an effort to establish a successful framework for what would be the continent’s first federal weed program of its kind.

In a submission to that task force sent in August, a spokesperson for the Canadian Pharmacists Association suggested the federal government should take apothecaries into consideration when it revamps the nation’s drug laws.

“We really wanted to focus on the need for pharmacists to be involved in clinical oversight,” spokesperson Phil Emberley told Global News recently. “We know that these medications are potent, we know that marijuana is potent and that there can be drug interactions with medical marijuana.”

Despite there being a medicial marijuana program already in place, health experts aren’t universally in favor of prescribing the plant. The Canadian Medical Association said in a statement recently it “still believes there is insufficient scientific evidence available to support the use of marijuana for clinical purposes,” as well as “insufficient evidence on clinical risks and benefits, including the proper dosage of marijuana to be used and on the potential interactions between this drug and other medications.”

“Placing marijuana in pharmacies could lend it credibility as a pharmaceutical medication, whereas placing it in liquor stores would send the message that it needs strict and formal controls,” the CMA said in its submission to the task force.

In the United States, 25 states have established medical marijuana programs despite the plant still being listed as a  Schedule 1 narcotic by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have all legalized weed for recreational use. Proposals calling for the establishment of either medical or recreational marijuana programs are slated to appear on ballots in nine states when voters go to the polls in two weeks.

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