Original story published by High Times.
By Adam Drury
Things just got more convenient for medical cannabis patients in Ontario. On Tuesday, the popular pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart launched its online retail portal for medical cannabis products. Shoppers is a national chain, but for now it will only supply Ontario residents. Licensed patients will have to submit some paperwork in order to access the online store. Retail cannabis consumers, however, cannot make purchases, but they are able to browse the store’s offerings.
Shoppers Drug Mart just started selling medical cannabis online
Health Canada regulates and oversees Canada’s medical cannabis program. And under the agency’s rules, there’s only one legal mode of distribution for medical cannabis products: mail orders that go directly from licensed producers to patients. As a retail pharmacy chain, Shoppers Drug Mart is not a medical cannabis producer. It did however obtain a license from Health Canada to be one. It had to, in order to be able to sell to licensed patients in the first place. But instead of producing its own cannabis, Shoppers says it has lined up supply agreements with 10 licensed producers.
Shoppers obtained its own producer license in September 2018, nearly two years after submitting the initial application. On December 8, 2018, Health Canada licensed the company to sell medical cannabis products as well as accessories, like vape pens, online. Specifically, Shoppers can sell dried and fresh cannabis, seeds, plants and oils. Ontario’s adult-use retailers, by contrast, cannot sell oils or concentrates. Canada hopes to add regulations allowing the retail sale of cannabis concentrates later this year.
Shoppers is also following other Health Canada requirements for sellers. All customers are required to submit information they receive from the doctor who issued their cannabis prescription along with their Health Canada license information, before they can place an order. Once a patient begins the process by submitting their documentation, an advisor contacts them to review their medical history, help them register online and make product recommendations.
For buyers, Shopper’s Drug Mart has a better website than the OCS
Since adult-use legalization took effect in Canada on October 17, Ontario’s retail cannabis sector has been beset with problems. Incorrect and missing orders, privacy breaches, quality control issues and other mishaps have damaged the Ontario Cannabis Store’s reputation with customers. Some have even returned to their unlicensed suppliers. Unlike other provinces where customers can walk into a weed shop and make a purchase, Ontario is restricting adult-use cannabis retail to the OCS’s online store. And while it appears some of the major issues have been ironed out, Ontario’s cannabis consumers still want more options.
For retail cannabis customers familiar with the OCS’s shortcomings, Shoppers Drug Mart’s online store is unfortunately for window-shopping only. For medical cannabis patients, Shoppers’ website and usability are reportedly better than OCS’s online portal. Much of that, however, is probably due to regulations. Many provinces, including Ontario, have imposed strict packaging and labeling requirements for retail products. Medical cannabis packaging, on the other hand, has more room for creativity. The Shoppers website can also connect Ontario residents without a medical cannabis prescription with licensed healthcare professionals.