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Pharmacy distributors want in on Canada’s legalized marijuana regime

Pharmacy distributors eyeing pot landscape

OTTAWA — The federal government’s plans for legalizing recreational marijuana has many would-be players looking to carve out a role for themselves in the emerging market, including pharmaceutical distributors who already ship drugs across the country.

The Canadian Association for Pharmacy Distribution Management — a supplier of medicine for pharmacies and hospitals — says it has a ready-made system for marijuana distribution that they say is far superior to mail-order pot.

Pharmaceutical distributors offer a more appropriate vehicle for the recreational marijuana market, CEO David Johnston said in an interview Wednesday, noting they already have the infrastructure in place to handle potential recalls, be it in downtown Toronto or remote northern Ontario.

“Pharmaceutical products (are) being shipped across this country and being delivered by the pharmaceutical distributors, so we feel like we are a natural partner in the movement of marijuana, both medical and recreational, to whatever its final access point is,” Johnston said.

“That’s a detail that’s not known yet.”

The federal government plans to have an established regime for legalized marijuana by July 2018, but will require provincial and territorial governments to play a critical role on issues including licensing, distribution and retail sales.

More discussions can unfold with federal and provincial officials now that the Liberal government fired up the process last week when it tabled its long-awaited marijuana legislation, Johnston added.

“There are … difficult and complicated questions that need to be answered around the legalization of marijuana both medically and recreationally,” he said.

“What we are suggesting is: here is a very complex section where you already have a … proven solution.”

On Thursday, hundreds are expected to flock to Parliament Hill to take part in so-called 4-20 celebrations — an annual, highly visible display of support for legal marijuana that takes place in various locales around the world.

The celebration is expected to take on new meaning now the federal government has set in motion its legalization process including sweeping legal, health and justice policy shifts.

Health Minister Jane Philpott, who first signalled the timing of the landmark legislation on 4-20 last year at a UN special session on drugs, did not strike a celebratory tone when asked Wednesday about the upcoming demonstrations.

“We are pleased that we were able to get this bill tabled in the House,” she said in an interview.

“It is a transformative piece of policy that is, I think, a strong response to the realities that we are facing in Canada with high rates of cannabis use.”

The Liberal government will also ensure Canadians who need cannabis for medical purposes can do so through the existing regime, Philpott said, noting a federally appointed task force recommended a separate system alongside the recreational one.

In a 2016 decision, the Federal Court of Canada declared a previous medical marijuana system unconstitutional on the basis it did not provide patients with reasonable access to cannabis.

The government subsequently introduced new regulations — the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations — in August 2016 so patients could access marijuana through licensed producers, produce their own, or designate someone to do so.

The issue of personal cultivation is also popping up in the recreational pot debate, with the government’s proposed legislation allowing for up to four plants per residence, with no plant to exceed one metre in height.

Before the bill was tabled, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police urged the Liberal government to exclude personal cultivation from its plans to legalize marijuana, saying it’s impossible to ensure such marijuana isn’t being cultivated for the black market.

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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