04/07/2016 04:49 EDT | Updated 04/08/2017 05:12 EDT

Canadian Pharmacists Campaign To Be 'Front-Line' Marijuana Retailers

Pharmacists are "medication experts," after all.


TORONTO — An association that represents individual pharmacists has changed its stance on medical cannabis, saying pharmacists should play a "front-line" role in dispensing the drug.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association says it has updated its position because it's growing concerned about what it calls a "lack of clinical oversight" in the use of medical marijuana.

The group says in a release issued Thursday that pharmacists are "medication experts" and therefore could help identify potential problems such as drug interactions, contraindications and potentially addictive behaviour.

However, licensed cannabis producers say they don't think that pharmacies should be the only way for patients to access medical marijuana.

"I think the pharmacy model is a good option for patients, but in addition to the existing mail order and customer service system we have today," said Greg Engel, the CEO of B.C.-based Tilray.

"That's giving patients options."

Philippe Lucas, CEO of medical marijuana producer Tilray. Tilray says pharmacies should be allowed to sell marijuana, but not exclusively. (Globe and Mail photo via Canadian Press)

The Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association says that if pharmacies become the sole option, replacing the current mail-order system, that would leave patients at a disadvantage.

The association, which represents licensed cannabis producers, says it would be impossible for pharmacies to stock the hundreds of strains of marijuana that patients are able to access today.

Colette Rivet, executive director of the CMCIA, says it's important for patients to have a wide array of choices when it comes to strands.

"You have to try some different ones sometimes — with different THC or CBD content — to make sure it addresses the symptoms of your particular condition," Rivet said.

THC and CBD are abbreviations for tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, two of the active components of medical marijuana.

Rivet says that moving distribution over to pharmacies and getting rid of the mail-order system would also increase costs for consumers — which are already high considering that in most instances, cannabis is not covered by health insurance plans.

"Pharmacies have large overheads, and they add a dispensing fee," says Rivet.

Rivet also noted that pharmacists were given the option of participating in the distribution model when Health Canada's medical marijuana regulations were introduced in 2013.

But they shied away, citing insufficient evidence of the drug's therapeutic effects, Rivet said.

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