Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. opens its online medical cannabis portal to Manitobans today, a move local oncologist Dr. Paul Daeninck says will lend the pharmacy’s big-name reputation to the medical cannabis space and help guide patients through the ins and outs of medical marijuana.
"From my point of view, I think it’s a pretty good idea to have someone who has this long history of working with patients and knowing how to deal with medication," said Daeninck, a CancerCare Manitoba oncologist who sits on the medical advisory board to the Shoppers program.
The Medical Cannabis by Shoppers program launched in Ontario and Alberta earlier this year, and is now available to all provinces and territories.
Although it doesn’t let registered medical cannabis patients buy the drug directly from the ubiquitous Canadian pharmacy chain, it does promise support for medical cannabis users through the online platform and a call centre. That could be a boon to medical cannabis patients seeking advice, said Daeninck, who has years of experience authorizing cannabis for Manitoba cancer patients.
"Often patients are coming in to see me with their product that they bought either at one of the recreational stores, or maybe they bought it online, and they’re saying to me, ‘What is this, how do I use it, my cousin, my grandson, my neighbour told me about using this, what am I supposed to do with it?’" Daeninck said.
"So they have no guidance."
Shoppers’ cannabis advisers will be able to help registered patients find a product that suits their needs and advise them on how to use it, Daeninck added.
Accessing medical cannabis through Health Canada’s program requires authorization from a physician or a nurse practitioner. Manitobans who already have that doctor’s note can take it to a Shoppers location to get help registering for the company’s online portal, which provides access to mail-order cannabis from 12 different government-regulated producers: Aphria, Aurora, Broken Coast Cannabis, CanniMed, Emblem, MedReleaf, Starseed Medicinal, Tilray, WeedMD, FlowerRx, Satipharm and Zenabis.
For those without a doctor’s note, Daeninck said Shoppers will make medical consultations with health-care professionals available through the online platform.
Even as recreational cannabis stores proliferate across Manitoba, Daeninck said there are advantages to accessing cannabis through the Shoppers program.
"When you go into one of those (recreational) stores, you have a budtender, and it’s kind of like going to a bartender... They don’t have the experience, they don’t know what they’re talking about in terms of medical cannabis."
Health Canada figures show almost 16,000 medical cannabis registrations in Manitoba as of June, out of nearly 364,000 countrywide. Daeninck expects the number of registered medical cannabis users in Manitoba to continue growing.
"For years, I’ve talked about using pharmacists as a good ally when you’re talking about medical cannabis," he said.
"They haven’t been allowed to do very much about it... I think this is something that will be a benefit to all."
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.