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Let pharmacies sell medical marijuana, Loblaw president says

Loblaw is not directly lobbying Ottawa on the issue, but it is supporting the Canadian Pharmacists Association in its efforts


 
Director of Quality Assurance Thomas Shipley prunes dry marijuana buds before they are processed for shipping at Tweed Marijuana Inc in Smith's Falls, Ontario, April 22, 2014. By unlocking the once-obscure medical marijuana market, Canada has created a fast-growing, profitable and federally regulated industry with a distinct appeal to the more daring global investor. About a dozen producers of the drug will find themselves in the spotlight this year as they consider going public or prepare to so through share sales or reverse takeovers to capitalize on recent regulatory changes, investment bankers said. Tweed Marijuana Inc, which converted an old chocolate factory into a marijuana farm, led the pack by becoming the first publicly held Canadian company in the sector. Picture taken April 22, 2014. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Director of Quality Assurance Thomas Shipley prunes dry marijuana buds before they are processed for shipping at Tweed Marijuana Inc in Smith’s Falls, Ontario, April 22, 2014. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

TORONTO – Galen G. Weston wants in on the medical marijuana business.

Weston, the head of the country’s largest drugstore and grocery chain, said Thursday that pharmacists are well-positioned to dispense the drug in a safe manner.

“We’re an industry that is extremely effective at managing controlled substances,” said Weston, Loblaw’s president and executive chairman, following the company’s annual general meeting Thursday.

“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 and making sure it actually has the therapeutic effect that it is intended to have.”

Although he doesn’t see any “safety or credibility” issues with the current mail system, where patients are sent the drug from a licensed producer, Weston said patients would be able to receive more consultation if the dispensing was done face-to-face.

If given the go-ahead from Ottawa, Loblaw (TSX:L) would be open to dispensing medical cannabis in all forms, at all their Shoppers Drug Mart and grocery pharmacy locations, Weston added. The company operates about 1,700 pharmacies under its various banners.

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The pitch from Weston is not entirely new. A spokeswoman for Shoppers Drug Mart delivered a similar take in February in its efforts to persuade the federal government to allow pharmacists to sell medical marijuana.

Still, his comments mark the latest sign that the marijuana industry is increasingly seen as a legitimate way for businesses to make money in a hyper-competitive retail sector.

Loblaw is not directly lobbying Ottawa on the issue, but it is supporting the Canadian Pharmacists Association in its efforts.

Last month, the professional group updated its stance, saying it had growing concerns over what it calls a “lack of clinical oversight” in the use of medical marijuana if pharmacies don’t play a “front-line role” in providing access to the drug.

The Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada, whose members include London Drugs, I.D.A. and Rexall, also holds a similar view.

Under Health Canada’s rules, patients are only able to buy medical marijuana from licensed producers and are no longer permitted to grow their own, something they were allowed to do prior to 2013.

In February, a B.C. court recently struck down the law as unconstitutional. Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan ruled that forcing patients to buy marijuana through the mail from a licensed producer was an “arbitrary and overbroad” violation of patients’ charter rights.

Ottawa is looking at making changes to the regulations and expects to complete the process in August.

The Liberal government has also committed to legalizing recreational marijuana use, although no timeline has been given on that initiative.

Weston said Loblaw is currently focused only on the distribution of marijuana for medical use, not recreational use.


 
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