WOULD pharmacies want to sell cannabis? In February, The Economist magazine had a lead front page feature that opened with the following statement: “The argument for the legalisation of cannabis has been won. Now for the difficult bit.”
The difficult bit is how we decide to regulate the legal cannabis industry.
The article goes on to say that how the early adopters like Canada and Colorado regulate their cannabis market will have a huge influence on how other countries that follow suit, will regulate their cannabis market.
What is the best way to regulate cannabis? The first thing we need to do is learn the lessons of history, we need to be honest with ourselves. The regulation of legal harmful drugs in the past has been a disaster.
Let’s use alcohol as an example. The marketing, branding, supply chain, production and regulation of alcohol has led to far too much problem consumption. We cannot let cannabis be marketed and regulated in the same way.
This is how I would regulate a legalised cannabis industry: all production should be carried out by a state-run public body, production should not be run by private enterprises; the profit margins should be kept low; all profits made should be invested in the health service.
I’ll concede that there will be different cannabis based products and strains. Cannabis anti-inflammatory cream etc.
But there should be no branding, no marketing and no advertising. There should never be any reason to increase the demand for drugs through advertising and marketing. That is a lesson we need to learn.
I think cannabis should be sold exclusively in pharmacies, as it is a drug, and drugs should be sold in a responsible way. Pharmacies sells drugs, and pharmacists are formally educated and knowledgeable about drugs. If someone is having adverse mental health effects to cannabis, pharmacists can signpost them to appropriate services.
When cannabis was last legal in the Western World it was sold in pharmacies. Cannabis is also a medicine. Most notably it has shown benefit in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The mainstream perception of cannabis in the UK is still pretty negative, and the governments’ official stance is that cannabis has no medicinal properties, but I think, in time, this view will change. There are 25 states in the US where some form of cannabis is sold legally. It looks like this push towards widespread acceptance of a legal market for the drug will continue, and I think this change in perception in the US will lead to a change of perception in Europe.
Would pharmacies want to sell cannabis if it was legal? I think most people in pharmacy would probably not want to sell cannabis. However, I think they should give it more consideration, as a regulated cannabis market is much more preferable to one that mirrors our current alcohol market. Also pharmacy could do with the additional income.
Pharmacy has two existential threats brewing, particularly pharmacies in remote or rural areas. One is cuts (austerity economics) and the other is the inevitable rise of internet pharmacies. Cannabis could be a life-saving source of income for small independent pharmacies.
Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist based in London