TORONTO — Shoppers Drug Mart Inc. is moving away from its medical cannabis distribution business and preparing to transfer patients to a platform run by biopharmaceutical company Avicanna Inc.
The pharmacy chain owned by Loblaw Companies Ltd. announced the shift Tuesday, but did not say what prompted the change or how much money Toronto-based Avicanna is paying for Shoppers to refer patients to its MyMedi.ca platform.
“We are grateful for the trust placed in us by our medical cannabis patients over the past few years, and are confident we’ve found the right partner in Avicanna to continue to support them,” said Jeff Leger, Shoppers' president, in a statement.
His company will start to send customers to Avicanna's platform in early May, with all of the patients set to be off-loaded from Shoppers' medical pot service by the end of July. Customers will be able to place orders on Shoppers' website through the transition period.
Avicanna said it will offer a similar range of products including various formats, brands and "competitive pricing." Like Shoppers, its online medical portal will strive to educate customers around harm reduction and provide specialty services for distinct patient groups like veterans.
Shoppers first launched its medical cannabis business in Ontario in January 2019, months after recreational pot was legalized in Canada (medical pot was legalized in Canada in 2001) at a time when many predicted the weed sector would be booming in the coming years.
The sector has instead struggled with profitability and as high numbers of recreational cannabis shops cluster in several cities, many retailers and licensed producers have had to drop their prices to stay competitive.
However, Shoppers said it racked up tens of thousands of patients in its four years of existence, providing them with access to cannabis from more than 30 brands including Aphria Inc., Hexo Corp.'s Redecan and the Green Organic Dutchman.
Shoppers' medical cannabis patients were required to obtain a prescription from a licensed health care provider such as a doctor to begin ordering pot from the company, which shipped orders to their homes.
But the company was unhappy with how medical pot regulations limited its model. Shoppers claimed Tuesday that medical cannabis remains the only medication that is not dispensed in pharmacies.
“As we move away from medical cannabis distribution, we remain firm in our belief that this medication should be dispensed in pharmacies like all others and will continue our advocacy to that end," said Leger.
Avicanna's statement did not outline its feelings on the matters, but its chief executive said it was "motivated" to "put our full efforts toward advancing medical cannabis and its incorporation into the standard of care.”
“We are thankful to be selected as the partner for this transition and look forward to introducing MyMedi.ca, supporting patients and providing them with continuity of care,” said Avicanna chief executive Aras Azadian in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.
Companies in this story: (TSX:L, TSX:AVCN, TSX:HEXO)
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press