Federal International

Canadian Pharmacists Association hopes Canadian Provinces follow Uruguay with cannabis pharmacy sales

By Whitney Abrams | April 20, 2017

As of this July, over-the-counter cannabis pharmacy sales will become a reality in Uruguay, making it the first country in the world to use pharmacies as distribution outlets for cannabis. The President of Uruguay’s National Drugs Council, Juan Andres Roballo, made the announcement at a press conference just over a week before Canada’s Bill to enact the Cannabis Act was tabled.

This is the first institutionalized retail-type distribution scheme we have seen come out of Uruguay, who, since the law was passed in 2013, has only offered citizens the option to grow their own cannabis plants (up to six) or to join private cannabis growers’ clubs who are authorized to supply up to 45 members.

Under the law, consumers must sign up for a national registry of users which will is estimated to be implemented fully by May of this year. The registry is to ensure that users have fulfilled their obligations under the law, including, insuring that users do not exceed the monthly maximum purchase of 40 grams per person.

Pharmacies will stock cannabis in 5 or 10 gram containers, but initially only the smaller sized 5-gram containers will be available. The price per gram will be $1.30 USD, to counter black market prices, and will be supplied exclusively from the country’s licensed producers.  As of the date of writing, 16 pharmacies have already signed agreements with the government to supply cannabis to consumers in the country.  Each pharmacy will be allotted 400 kilograms of cannabis and are expected to refresh their stock approximately every two weeks.

The Uruguay government hopes that this form of distribution will “guarantee the quality and the purity of the product.” Under this system, Roballo says, consumers will “have complete certainty about the quality of the product they are consuming, and so the risks will diminish considerably.”

Meanwhile, in Canada, the Canadian Pharmacists Association (“CPhA”) hopes for the same future.

Shortly after the Canadian Federal legislation was tabled, the CPhA issued a press release expressing its “concern and disappointment” in the legislation’s failure to specifically legislate distribution to pharmacies. In the CPhA’s opinion, pharmacy sales are a natural choice, as they would “enhance patient safety by providing appropriate clinical oversight in the management and dispensing of medical cannabis in Canada.”

One of CPhA’s statements was as follows:

“CPhA believes that a frontline role for pharmacists in the management and dispensing of medical cannabis is in the best interest of patient safety. Pharmacists have the necessary expertise to mitigate the potential risks associated with using medical cannabis, including harmful drug interactions, contraindications and potential addictive behaviour.  By not moving to ensure appropriate clinical oversight, CPhA believes that patient health will continue to be at risk under the current system.

                                            …

Maintaining the status quo, without a role for pharmacist dispensing, runs contrary to international best practices and misses the mark to improve patient safety.”

Despite being initially opposed to pharmacy distribution under the MMPR in 2013, this is not the first time that the CPhA has chimed in (in recent history) with respect to legalization and the creation of a separate medical and recreational market retail structure.

The CPhA has been very vocal on advocating for a dual system, and on August 29, 2016, even made a submission to the Task Force in response to their discussion paper and call for input from experts involved in related industries.

Among the recommendations provided for in the submission, the CPhA maintained that in facilitating a separate stream for medical patients, “pharmacy offers a safe and secure supply chain with top-level security and tracking for narcotics and controlled substances already in place to ensure that medical cannabis is not diverted for the purpose of recreational use.”

The CPhA explained in a previous news release that its position was informed by three main reasons, including an third party research reports/surveys done by KPMG and Abacus Data respectively, which bolstered the CPhA’s case for pharmacy distribution.

In a press release on April 7, 2017, the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association (“CMCIA”) highlighted fears of pharmacies replacing the mail-order system currently used by medical patients as mandated under the ACMPR. “Distribution only via pharmacies would reduce access and product choice, and raise costs to patients, and could increase the risk of diversion.”

Similar concerns included that moving distribution exclusively over to pharmacies would result in additional costs in the form of dispensing fees, which help to cover the large overheads that pharmacies have. The press release stated that CMCIA would be reaching out to the CPhA to begin a dialogue on “how pharmacists and pharmacy can work with Licensed Producers of medical cannabis, physicians, patients and other stakeholders to expand patients’ access to regulated, affordable products.”

Although mail order is still the only legal distribution method of medical cannabis in Canada, pharmacies remain hopeful for the future. This includes Shoppers Drug Mart, which announced its decision to apply to be a licensed distributor under the ACMPR and PharmaChoice, which signed a letter of intent with CanniMed Therapeutics back in March.

It is entirely possible that the Canadian provinces will take a page from Uruguay’s book and implement pharmacy-distribution as one source of sales in Canada, without limiting or removing the current mail-order system. The variations of potential pharmacy sales are yet to be seen – whether they may stick to oils, pills, and supplements or offer a full range of strains are details that we would look forward to seeing as the regime changes – if it indeed changes.


Whitney Abrams

Whitney Abrams

Whitney’s work focuses on providing regulatory advice and advocating on behalf of cannabis businesses in the North American market. She is a frequent contributor to Canada Cannabis Legal.
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Comments (3)

  1. Jules:
    Dec 29, 2018 at 12:53 AM

    Fascinating article. Very in depth. My one question is: from where would Canada import cannabis? Are there countries currently exporting cannabis legally? Uraguay seems like the most economical source, although shipping costs could be an issue.

  2. miss lena:
    Feb 24, 2019 at 01:52 PM


    All labels will need to be plain, not appealing to children, and make no health claims. For edibles, there may be no dietary claims, and for topicals, there may be no cosmetic claims. For all of the new product classes, packaging and labelling must not contain any elements that associate the product with an alcoholic beverage, alcohol, or an alcohol brand.

  3. miss lena:
    Feb 24, 2019 at 01:52 PM

    All labels will need to be plain, not appealing to children, and make no health claims. For edibles, there may be no dietary claims, and for topicals, there may be no cosmetic claims. For all of the new product classes, packaging and labelling must not contain any elements that associate the product with an alcoholic beverage, alcohol, or an alcohol brand.






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