Shoppers launches medical cannabis platform

The retail chain's ecommerce site is now live, banking on the expertise of its staff to make it a "trusted and convenient source."

After receiving approval from Health Canada late last year, Shoppers Drug Mart has launched its online platform for patients to buy medical cannabis.

Patients can bring medical documents to Shoppers’ stores to register as a medical cannabis patient with the Loblaw-owned national chain. Per rules regulating the sale and delivery medical cannabis products, there will be no cannabis on-site at Shoppers’ locations; rather, patients will be required to make their purchases online and receive them through Canada Post. After registering, patients will be contacted by the retailer’s new Shoppers Cannabis Care Centre, and an advisor will help guide them through the buying process.

Shoppers will stock products from ten licensed producers, including: Aphria, Aurora, MedReleaf, Tilray, Emblem and CanniMed, among others. While it is not yet listed on the website, licensed producer Flowr announced today that its FlowRx brand will also be sold through the Shoppers platform. The company says Shoppers “will be the exclusive direct-to-patient online provider of FlowRx products.” FlowRx is currently available to patients registered through Flowr’s website, as well as some select clinics.

The process of registering as a patient and having product delivered through the mail is similar to how medical cannabis patients already receive products directly from licensed producers, many of whom also employ customer care staff to guide patients. However, Shoppers has said since it first went public with its plans to enter the medical cannabis space that it hopes the strength and trust of its brand, the expertise of its pharmacists and having a selection from multiple LPs to choose from will differentiate its experience and make it preferred source. A section of the new website says Shoppers is looking to be “the most trusted and convenient source” for medical cannabis.

“As trusted medication experts, pharmacists have an important role to play in the safe and informed use of medical cannabis. [This] announcement is a leap forward for those looking for professional oversight and trusted support in this area,” said Jeff Leger, president of Shoppers Drug Mart, in a press release. “As medical cannabis is increasingly prescribed to Canadians for its therapeutic benefits, our goal is to enhance the service and support that patients receive through this process.”

For patients who might be searching for education on their own, the “Learn” section of the Shoppers site is still relatively sparse in terms of information, especially when compared to sites from many licensed producers, online platforms like Lift&Co or even recreational ecommerce platforms from sellers like the Ontario Cannabis Store. For its own staff to provide guidance, education is supported by the Shoppers Drug Mart Medical Advisory Board, a panel of medical experts that provide guidance and advice on new clinical evidence. Shoppers says it has also developed “clinical algorithms” that will help its advisors select the correct strain for customers.

“Our Cannabis Care Advisors have gone through significant training, including with each of our Licensed Producer suppliers on their products and specifications,” a spokesperson for the retail said in an email to strategy. “Additionally, we established a medical advisory board of some of the industry’s top scientific and clinical experts on medical cannabis.  Over the past few years, they have developed clinical algorithms to help our advisors select the correct product based on the prescriber’s recommendation and have supported our efforts to educate our team with the most up to date information.”

Shoppers Drug Mart is not the only seller exploring the opportunity in having pharmacists become trusted guides for would-be patients looking to enter the medical cannabis category. For example, National Access Cannabis has brought over 100 independent pharmacies onto its Medical Cannabis Management System, which provides education and training for pharmacies, as well as tools to help them manage supply and patients.

The platform is currently only available to customers in Ontario. The retailer says it has no traditional marketing activities planned to promote the platform.