Shoppers Drug Mart seeks cannabis sales in pharmacies: Q&A with exec Ken Weisbrod

Canada medical cannabis; Shoppers Drug Mart, Shoppers Drug Mart seeks cannabis sales in pharmacies: Q&A with exec Ken Weisbrod

Medical cannabis products in Canada should be dispensed to patients inside pharmacies – a natural progression for the sector that would lead to improved practitioner oversight, according to the point person for medical marijuana at Shoppers Drug Mart, the largest pharmacy chain in the country.

Ken Weisbrod, the outgoing vice president of business development/cannabis strategy, noted that Canada stands alone by excluding pharmacies from medical cannabis distribution.

Health Canada oversees medical marijuana sales through online customer purchases and mail delivery of the products, in addition to issuing personal and designated personal licenses. Shoppers has an online system of its own.

“Pharmacy is a natural progression,” Weisbrod told Marijuana Business Daily in an interview.

“You need medical practitioner oversight,” added Weisbrod, who is leaving Shoppers at the end of the year.

“The accessibility issue is really about pharmacies. Treat it like a medicine. In pharmacies, you can bring that clinical oversight for patients consuming it for health.”

Weisbrod confirmed he is leaving Shoppers later this year, as first reported by Business of Cannabis.

Shoppers has teamed with University Health Network (UHN) – which encompasses a number of hospitals in Canada – to launch the Medical Cannabis Real World Evidence study.

The study, which will have a maximum of 2,000 patients in its first phase, is intended to match cannabis genetics that have known cannabinoid and terpene profiles to patient outcomes.

Shoppers has more than two dozen vendors supplying cannabis products, which the company provides to its patients via its online portal.

The company does not cultivate cannabis but does operate a distribution center in Toronto.

MJBizDaily spoke with Weisbrod about the future of Canada’s medical cannabis industry.

What’s the status of the trial with UHN?

We’re live. We’ve got a real-world evidence study going. We’re watching (patients’) use of the cannabis products, their outcomes, and looking at sleeping disorders, anxiety, neuropathic pain.

We’ve created a separate portal where physicians can go in, and the data is rendered by TruTrace into a back-end system where a doctor can look at a very robust monograph, if you like, of the cannabis, understand its chemistry makeup, understand where it came from and then (choose) what’s appropriate for patients based on whatever is important to the clinician.

There’s a series of mechanisms in the study to get feedback from patients we track to understand which products are working, potentially which aren’t working and if they’re interacting with other (prescriptions).

It’s a robust amount of data.

What are you looking for in medical cannabis suppliers?

We’ve got great processes by Health Canada. We go in with that framework, which is fantastic to have in terms of safety. But we then put in more due diligence.

It’s more pharmaceutically orientated.

We want to ensure they have capability to cultivate properly.

We spend a lot of time understanding the role of cannabis and where it’s going and how it’s manufactured to ensure that we’re getting the best-quality products for our patients.

You need to really understand how the back end of the industry works in order to ensure you’re getting the best product.

How will more doctors become comfortable authorizing medical cannabis?

What’s unique about the real-world evidence study is you’re now looking at cannabis products and tracking patient outcomes.

You’ve got a study now of consistent, transparent product, and you’re able to actually see how a patient is getting a benefit, or not, from certain products.

That is very unique, and we’re probably one of the first in the world to do that, because we provide a database of products that are transparent.

Quite frankly, there are thousands of doctors who have sat on the fence on cannabis, and this (study with UHN) is a way to show product transparency.

Here’s a way to get a robust monograph of products and feel comfortable that there is a level of standardization.

The other part of this project is getting other doctors involved who have considered it but weren’t ready to make that move.

What’s in it for the cannabis producers besides revenue?

There are some very similar products out there: Is it really different? What really makes the product unique?

This is a way for them to get into studies.

You provide a consistent product over a period of time and track their outcomes. That’s the way you actually put claims to these cannabis products, as opposed to anecdotal evidence.

We have a lot of LPs (licensed producers) who want to be part of this system now, because they’re going to be able to get outcomes.

At UHN, there was a huge protocol that was developed for this study, and part of that is using standard indices to track patient outcomes on specific drugs.

Should cannabis be dispensed in pharmacies?

Medical cannabis dispensed through licensed producers is dispensed in isolation.

The most important aspect of the pharmacy equation is getting the pharmacists the other drugs (patients) are consuming for other conditions.

Cannabis is a drug that requires oversight, especially when you’re consuming other meds.

If you’re consuming for neuropathic pain and insomnia, and you’re taking other drugs for that, it’s interacting and no one really knows what’s going on.

A pharmacy would alleviate all of those issues.

Matt Lamers is Marijuana Business Daily’s international editor, based near Toronto. He can be reached at