Shoppers, Loblaw employees covered for medical marijuana
Source: Toronto Star
Shoppers will be the largest private sector employer in Canada to provide medical marijuana benefits to employees.
Canada’s largest pharmacy chain hopes to soon get the green light to sell medical marijuana – and now its store employees who need that prescription weed could be among its first customers.
Loblaw Companies Limited and Shoppers Drug Mart just announced in an internal staff memo that effective immediately it will be covering medical pot under the employee benefit plan up to a maximum of $1,500 per year.
Claims to insurance provider Manulife “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,” said Basil Rowe, senior vice-president of human resources at Loblaw Companies Ltd., owner of Shoppers, in the memo.
“These are the conditions where the most compelling clinical evidence and literature supports the use of medical marijuana in therapy,” explained Loblaw/Shoppers spokesperson Tammy Smitham.
“We will continue to review evidence as it become available for other indications (conditions),” she said.
Since cannabis does not yet have a Drug Identification Number recognized by insurers, it isn’t covered under typical drug spending. However, it will be covered through a special authorization process where plan members will pay and submit their claim after, said Smitham.
About 45,000 employees will be eligible, including 22,000 Shoppers store staff and 3,000 corporate staff along with 20,000 corporate and store management employees at George Weston/Loblaw, including Weston Foods, she said.
“To date, coverage of medical marijuana under group insurance plans is extraordinarily rare,” said Manulife spokesperson Anne-Julie Gratton, who did not comment on Shoppers specifically.
With Canada on the cusp of legalization, Shoppers applied last October to become a licensed marijuana producer for the purpose of retailing medicinal weed but hasn’t got word on approval yet. Ottawa is in the midst of overhauling pot laws under the Trudeau Liberals.
“It’s just good business and very intelligent branding,” said Khurram Malik, lead cannabis financial consultant at Jacob Capital Management.
“Considering they want to retail it, it would be hypocritical of them not to make it accessible to their employees,” he said.
He says Shoppers/Loblaw would be the largest private sector company to offer the benefit to employees. The average cost of medical marijuana is about $7 a gram, he said, and the annual cost to consumers is about $1,300 to access the drug, based on average consumption of half a gram per day.
Currently, patients with prescriptions are only legally permitted to buy medical marijuana directly from licensed producers and have the product delivered by mail, though some access the many pot dispensaries that have popped up in recent years.
“We believe that pharmacists are medication experts and that pharmacy is a safe and logical option for the dispensing of medical marijuana,” said Rowe.
“While at this time pharmacies are unable to dispense this specific drug therapy, we continue to work toward an active role for pharmacy,” says his note sent to employees Monday.
“The company is committed to helping you and your family live a better life by supporting your health and well-being,” he added.
Meanwhile a recent Forum Research poll found a majority of Canadians – 61 per cent – are high on Shoppers Drug Mart selling medicinal marijuana, especially young adults and higher-income earners.