Shoppers Drug Mart’s move to become an official medical marijuana distributor is creating a buzz with many current customers in Vancouver.
Sam Lee, a marijuana user for nearly five years, found the idea of speaking to an actual pharmacist reassuring.
“I would trust a pharmacist to sell me medical marijuana, that’s their job at pharmacies — selling you products to heal you,’’ said Lee, standing outside a dispensary on Commercial Drive.
And for Jesse Smith, a marijuana user for 10 years and a customer at the same dispensary, being able to make the Shoppers pharmacy a one-way stop, considering that ‘’I get all my other medication there,’’ was an extra benefit of having Shoppers enter the field.
‘’Our pharmacies would increase safety, quality and security’’
In late October, Shoppers Drug Mart , the largest pharmacy chain in Canada, confirmed that it had filed paperwork to enter the burgeoning business, arguing that their stores are the best place for the job.
‘’We believe that allowing medical marijuana to be dispensed through our pharmacies would increase access, safety, quality and security for the thousands of Canadians who use the drug as part of their medication therapy,’’ the company said in a statement.
Sara Jones, who began using marijuana six years ago, now purchases her pot from one of the many licenced dispensaries around the city.
But she would prefer to get medical advice from Shoppers, a brand she trusts and feels safe visiting.
‘’I definitely like Shoppers, and it would probably be more secure to buy my marijuana from their stores.’’
Jones said there is also the added benefit that Shoppers might allow her to claim the purchase on her company’s drug plan, a move which would save her a lot of money.
Helena Rikard also found that prospect enticing and said it would be the main determinant ‘’between coming to a local dispensary or visiting Shoppers.’’ Currently, even with a valid medical note, medical marijuana purchases are out of pocket. With a gram of marijuana normally costing $10, the expenses can add up.
A question of convenience
Convenience was another common thread with many customers. With over 1,200 stores, Shoppers Drug Mart is everywhere. And for Jerry Gagnon, a lifelong user of marijuana, choosing between Shoppers or a local dispensary came down to a question of easier access.
“Well, what’s closer? See, I’m a lazy guy, so convenience is what matters most for me,’’ he said.
Kyle McKenzie, an owner of a vape shop in Vancouver, argued similarly, saying that he could see himself going to Shoppers if it meant less work for him.
But some dispensary owners believe the pharmacy model won’t be as popular as buying it from small, independent operators.
Sampson Castro, a manager at the BC Pain Society, was doubtful that the marijuana quality at Shoppers would be comparable to a store which focused mainly on medicinal marijuana. He says a strong core of customers will still prefer to visit a store that has a singular focus: providing fresh medical marijuana in an accepting environment.
But he admits that that Shoppers entry could drive many dispensaries out of business.
Marijuana economy today
The marijuana economy is substantial with some Vancouver dispensaries making millions of dollars a year.
Shoppers Drug Mart would become the largest distributor of medical marijuana if granted a licence. And with some customers clearly willing to use them for their supply, they could potentially take a big slice of the current and future market.
Current laws in Vancouver, which make it possible to get a licence to sell medical marijuana (recreational use is still illegal), have strict guidelines. They mandate that any store selling medicinal marijuana needs to be 300 metres away from a school or recreational center. And to enter the premise of that store, customers need to be 19 or older.
Things are changing quickly however. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has openly declared his support to legalize recreational marijuana, with legislation slated for 2017.