Pubdate: Thu, 25 Feb 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Grant Robertson, [et al.]
Page: A1


As key players in the drugstore industry position themselves to expand
into medical marijuana sales, the drug's forthcoming legalization in
Canada is setting up a battle for who might control the market - with
hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

London Drugs Ltd., one of the biggest drugstore chains in Western
Canada, said Wednesday it is preparing educational tools for its
pharmacists so they will be ready if the company gets the nod to sell
medical marijuana to clients. That revelation came a day after The
Globe and Mail reported that Shoppers Drug Mart Corp., Canada's
largest pharmacy, is also eyeing the market, holding meetings with
several of Canada's 29 licensed marijuana producers about supplying
its stores.

For now, the drugstores are only looking at the tightly controlled
medical marijuana market and would need a federal licence to proceed.
But the moves come as Ottawa is taking steps to legalize the drug for
recreational use. The mere entrance of the big pharmacies into the
business is a threat to retailers who covet the recreational pot
business, since the medical business could serve as a springboard into
the eventual recreational market.

That much was evident on Wednesday when Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne
attempted to draw a line between the aspirations of Shoppers Drug Mart
and London Drugs, and her own contention that retailers such as
Ontario's provincially owned LCBO liquor stores should be the vendors
of recreational marijuana. Ms. Wynne said she has no problem with
private drugstores selling medicinal products - but recreational weed
should be the preserve of the government.

"I want to separate the two subjects, because there's a discussion
around medicine and medication. In the discussion around medical
marijuana, I understand Shoppers Drug Mart is having that conversation
and that's their prerogative," she said. "In terms of recreational
marijuana, I've been clear that there needs to be control around that
and I have made suggestions in the past about the LCBO."

The LCBO currently has a highly lucrative monopoly on the retailing of
hard liquor in Ontario, and it also sells wine and beer - returning a
dividend of $ 1.8- billion to the province in 2014. Cash-strapped
Ontario could sorely use the extra revenue that would come from
retailing marijuana.

"There are big bucks involved here for sure," said Concordia
University economics professor James McIntosh, who has studied various
approaches to legal marijuana around the world and has provided his
report to the federal government. "If it is illegal, marijuana cannot
be regulated and profits from these activities cannot be taxed," Prof.
McIntosh said.

His report suggests Uruguay as "a possible Canadian model." Uruguay
made it legal to produce and sell marijuana commercially in 2013, and
the drug is sold in pharmacies, which are "used to dispensing
controlled substances."

Liberal MP Bill Blair, who is the main federal spokesman on plans to
legalize marijuana, said it has not been decided whether the drug
should be sold in liquor stores, pharmacies or some of the many
dispensaries that have sprouted up across Canada.

Mr. Blair said the government will launch a federal-provincial task
force in the coming weeks that will design strict regulations to
control the production and distribution of the drug for recreational
purposes. He said the task force will consult widely with all players
in the industry, with the goal of promoting public health and safety.

While he refused to speculate on the outcome of the process, the
former Toronto police chief made it clear he feels that dispensaries
currently fail to provide safe marijuana to their clients. "There is
no way to know the quality, the purity, the risks of what you're
ingesting. I think we can do better," Mr. Blair told a hearing
organized by the Senate Liberal caucus in Ottawa.

In British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark said proposals from
drugstores to sell medical marijuana, and from liquor stores to sell
recreational pot, are "interesting ideas," but she is waiting for
federal direction on the Criminal Code before B. C. will shape its
response. She called on Ottawa to move quickly because of the
uncertainty around the law. "There are so many operators in grey
areas, we have got to address that," Ms. Clark said in Victoria.

London Drugs' vice-president of pharmacy John Tse said it makes
perfect sense to sell medical marijuana through drugstores, since the
product has pharmacological effects and can potentially interact with
other medications. Pharmacies are already tightly regulated, he said,
and are ubiquitous across the country, ensuring that most people who
need the drug will be able to get access to it.

The 78-store chain is already "gathering expert guidance to prepare
training and education for our pharmacists," Mr. Tse said.

"We want to be in a position where we understand it, we know it, and
we can provide proper guidance, counselling, education and product for
the patient to use it appropriately."
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