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Shoppers Drug Mart to grow medical pot sales with data

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Shoppers Drug Mart is adding more robust data to its online medical cannabis marketplace to help doctors get comfortable prescribing the drug.

The Loblaw-owned (L.TO) pharmacy chain launched its Medical Cannabis by Shoppers Drug Mart digital portal nationwide last December. Unlike recreational pot, medical cannabis is exclusively sold online. Shoppers Drug Mart offers products from a dozen licenced producers through its pot website.

Ken Weisbrod, the company’s vice president of business development, and a pharmacist by trade, sees better data as key to gaining the trust of doctors wary of prescribing cannabis, due to the unknowns compared to conventional pharmaceuticals with Drug Identification Numbers. 

“Cannabis is a combination of many different molecules in the plant, so doctors have to get their head around that,” he told Yahoo Finance Canada on Wednesday. “What we want to do for them is provide them with a much more robust look at the products that we offer.”

Shoppers is launching a new online portal for doctors on Thursday as part of a study led by the University Health Network aimed at matching patients with the right cannabis products. It will include detailed cannabinoid and terpene information designed to help medical professionals better understand the properties of pot strains.

Weisbrod said the process can be more complicated than simply determining the right product. Since licenced producers often source cannabis through third-party wholesale agreements, there can be variations from batch to batch. That’s a problem for doctors who demand consistency.

“There have been some patients who start therapy on cannabis, and it’s doing wonders for them. Then it doesn’t work in a couple of months. Part of that reason is, it might not necessarily be the same product that they were originally on,” he said. “That really isn’t the way of medicine.”

Last June, Shoppers announced a partnership with blockchain company TruTrace Technologies (TTT.CN) to oversee product consistency, quality and genetics throughout the supply chain from genome-to-patient with the goal of bringing medical cannabis closer in line with standards for other drugs.

“In Canada, we have roughly 85,000 physicians. Really a small cohort, less than 10 per cent, have really embraced cannabis,” Weisbrod said. “Having a change in the way physicians prescribe takes years. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Toronto-based Auxly Cannabis Group (XLY.V) sells to medical users through the Shoppers portal. Chief executive officer Hugo Alves said the additional data showcases his company’s testing and quality assurance measures for the doctors writing prescriptions.

“Now that science, innovation, and importantly research are becoming a more prevalent part of cannabis as a medicine, a trend that you will see is an absolute demand for increasing rigour in consistency and accuracy,” he said in an interview. “It’s raising the bar on standards throughout the entire industry.”

Weisbrod said Shoppers Drug Mart remains focused on the medical side of the cannabis business, and does not intend to pursue recreational sales. He declined to comment on the size of the company’s share of the Canadian medical market. 

As for next steps, Weisbrod hopes regulatory changes will soon allow medical cannabis to be offered in the company’s physical pharmacies.

“In 2022, they’ll look into the medical regime, and maybe they’ll open it up and put it in pharmacies,” he said. “Our hope is for patients to walk in and get cannabis like their other medications.”

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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