Canadian pharmacy chain to cover employees’ medical cannabis

The biggest pharmacy chain in Canada will begin covering medical cannabis for certain conditions under its employee health insurance plan.

Loblaw Companies and its Shoppers Drug Mart unit made the announcement through a staff memo, The Toronto Star reported.

The move coincides with Shoppers’ application last October to become a licensed MMJ producer in order to sell MMJ through its 1,300 brick-and-mortar storefronts.

Shoppers, which is awaiting a decision on its application, does not plan to grow its own cannabis. The producer application “is an administrative requirement to be able to distribute the drug,” The Globe and Mail reported last October.

Under current Canadian laws, patients cannot buy medical cannabis from retailers. Rather, they must buy it from a federally licensed grower that can only mail products to patients. But industry observers are expecting changes in the Canadian cannabis market once the nation legalizes recreational use, possibly by July 2018.

If Shoppers does win a production license, the employees would be able to buy MMJ cannabis from their employer.

Under the Loblaw and Shoppers’ health plan – which is provided through Manulife – employees would have their MMJ purchases covered for up to 1,500 Canadian dollars ($1,129.50), according to The Star.

Claims will be considered only “for prescriptions to treat spasticity and neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy for cancer patients,” Basil Rowe, senior vice president of human resources at Loblaw, wrote in the memo, according to The Star.

About 45,000 Loblaw employees will be eligible to purchase MMJ, including 22,000 who work in Shoppers stores, The Star reported.