Legalized cannabis an historical shift

November 27, 2018 The Tablet

CEO Message: Geraldine Vance

Each decade seems to be marked by some event that is written into the history books – Expo 86, Y2K, the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. There is little doubt that for Canadians this decade will be marked by Oct. 17, 2018. In addition to being my birthday, it is the date Canada turns a page in public policy that can’t be turned back: The legalization of recreational cannabis.

While community pharmacists have been on the sidelines as recreational cannabis is made available legally, it is an issue of importance for the profession. I am sure I am not alone in my outrage at the term dispensary being associated with an illegal pot shop, or when these so-called “dispensaries” display signs that claim they cure everything from migraines to cancer.  

The BC Pharmacy Association has worked hard to ensure our lawmakers understand the importance of eliminating the use of this term by those who have no clinical expertise or training in the dispensing of drugs. We were very pleased B.C.’s Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth agreed with our concerns and that B.C.’s regulations of the sale of recreational cannabis will prohibit retailers from using terminology associated with a medicinal product. We will remain vigilant on this issue and will work with the province’s community safety unit to ensure recreational cannabis retailers do not make medical claims about their places of business.

The next issue to be addressed by Canada’s federal and provincial governments relates to a review of the sale of medicinal cannabis. The Canadian Pharmacists Association (and other provincial pharmacy associations) have long held the view that medicinal cannabis must be made available through pharmacies, allowing patients access to the expertise of a pharmacist. One could argue there is an urgency in making this happen. There are scores of people who have purchased cannabis through illegal retailers on the belief they were buying “medicine.” What happens to those people after Oct. 17? Their need for treatment of their medical issues certainly won’t go away. Who will those patients turn to for advice? It can and should be pharmacists, who have the skills and knowledge to safely dispense legal, medicinal cannabis products. Pharmacists need to work in partnership with prescribers who are experienced in integrating medicinal cannabis into a patient’s overall care. They need to be able to counsel patients on drug interactions. And they need to be able to track a medicinal cannabis prescription to that patient’s PharmaNet profile and medical record.

The issue around broad accessibility of medicinal cannabis should not be side-tracked by discussions about who will pay for the product. It should be centred on stewardship of the patient’s well-being. And there is no doubt that community pharmacists are the right people to provide that stewardship. 

This article is featured in The Tablet. The Tablet features pharmacy and industry news, profiles on B.C. pharmacists, information on research developments and new products.