Shelter vs. Consumers: Discover Canada’s largest collection of medicinal hashish right here
Medical cannabis has been legal to Canadian patients since 2001 and has been widely available through licensed retailers since 2013. However, it is still relatively complicated to navigate.
Unlike other prescription drugs, medical cannabis is not prescribed at all, but approved by a doctor. Not even your doctor, as many general practitioners are still reluctant to recommend cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
It’s a strange system that has given rise to specialized clinics where patients rely on these health care providers to approve an allowance of cannabis directly from a licensed source.
Some of these clinics are affiliates of licensed manufacturers, while others are independent, but may be compensated by a percentage of the sales of the licensed manufacturers or retailers they refer their patients to.
As a result, patients may be eligible to purchase from a single medical cannabis supplier. And since most Licensed Manufacturers (LPs) only sell their own products (or products from their subsidiary brands), patient choices are ultimately limited in this situation.
Of course there are ways to get around these limitations. Patients can split their authorizations between two or more suppliers or move their authorization papers from supplier to supplier in order to try different goods from different suppliers. However, until recently, patients have found it difficult to enjoy the kind of retail experience that recreational consumers have, which is one of variety and choice.
Canada’s two largest medical marijuana marketplaces are explained
Your local pharmacy won’t be dispensing medical marijuana anytime soon, but a new model is emerging. This model is best illustrated by looking at medical markets such as Medical Cannabis by Shoppers, Shelter Market, and to a lesser extent CannMart. All three offer a range of products from multiple LPs.
To determine if these markets are right for your medical needs, we’ve sent Shoppers, Shelter, and CannMart the same questions, and we’ve summarized Shoppers and Shelters’ answers below. Representatives from CannMart, which runs on a similar model (but with less listed products than Shoppers and Shelter), did not answer our questions, but you can learn more about it here.
Craft against big names
Shelter Market is owned by licensed manufacturer AgroGreens, but the company offers products from several licensed manufacturers.
“Shelter Market is committed to putting patient needs first, and a big part of that is access,” said Gill Polard, Marketing Manager for Shelter. “We believe that having access to a variety of products and price points to suit a patient’s diverse needs is beneficial. That’s why we’re working hard to offer a growing range of quality options.”
Craftsmen available at Shelter include North 40 Cannabis, Canada’s first licensed microcultivator and microprocessor; Gnomestar Craft Cannabis, which sells artisan cannabis in small quantities indoors; Habitat, known for using time consuming traditional drying and curing techniques; and the hand-cut, low-volume family-owned Verte West products.
All of this focus on small-batch and micro-growers creates what Polard calls a “pharmacy-style boutique menu with a range of high quality and niche products”. This approach has not gone unnoticed by patients and industry insiders, who frequently take to Twitter to praise Shelter’s products.
Medical cannabis from buyers
“In addition to helping patients access a variety of brands and formats with a single medical document, we’re also working with cannabis-trained pharmacists to help patients on their journey to medical cannabis,” said April Brooks, brand manager for medical cannabis by Shoppers (MCbyS). As a subsidiary of Shoppers Drug Mart Inc., this means “offering a brand that patients know and trust”.
Because of this great brand energy and the resources it contains, MCbyS has partnered with the University Health Network and several LPs that Brooks calls “a groundbreaking real-world evidence study” to create more accurate quality standards for medical cannabis products. Brooks also notes that in the early days of COVID-19 in Canada, MCbyS responded quickly and launched the first compassionate emergency care program to offer free shipping to all patients.
Shelter and Shoppers: A Side by Side Comparison
Shelter Market *Medical cannabis from buyers *ProductsOver 137 Product SKUs and Cultivation Over 196 product SKUs and cultivation brands carried 11 different licensed manufacturers as well as two private labels. Over 26 licensed manufacturers and 13 accessory brands. Exclusive ** Cake by Habitat (flower); certain choices of Gnomestar Craft Cannabis and North 40 Cannabis (flowers and pre-rolls), as well as the Farmstead private label, which works with Avicanna’s North 40 and Verte WestRho; Cortalex from Cardiol Therapeutics; FlowrRx from Flowr; Nuance from The Valens Company; BioU Uspray from Radient Technologies; Dosist Compassionate Pricing Customers earning less than $ 30,000 / year or customers with government disability benefits receive a 15% discount. First aiders receive a 10% discount. Patients earning less than $ 30,000 / year or having financial difficulties due to COVID-19 receive a 20% discount. Seniors receive a 10% discount. Free shipping on orders over $ 100. $ 15 shipping for orders under $ 100Free on all orders; Express and priority mail available at standard rates. Same day delivery in the greater Toronto area available on some ordersSale and Discount25% off all first-time orders and a dedicated check-in area with reduced prices. Sales every few months. Seniors receive a 20% discount on orders every first Thursday of the month. MCby S does monthly sales as well as one-day flash sales. Corporate social responsibility plans are in the works, says a representative. However, after starting in spring 2020, it is still too early to share information. Parent company Shoppers Drug Mart Inc. supports several women’s health initiatives and nonprofits that raised and donated $ 9.8 million through the LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart program in 2019. * Product numbers were correct at the time of writing, but representatives from both companies note that their offerings continue to grow.
** Exclusively for medical markets; Some of these products are available from recreational retailers.
How Can Canada’s Medical Markets Improve?
“Companies like Shoppers Drug Mart and Shelter Market have enabled patients to seamlessly purchase products from multiple manufacturers through a single point of access,” said Jonathan Zaid, patient advocate, cannabis industry expert and founder of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijauna (CFAMM, now known as MCC or Medical Cannabis Canada). He points out that while both companies have “solid customer service reputations” there is still room for growth.
“Additional product information like the full ingredient listing for vapes, full terpene profiles for flowers, and patient-specific advocacy support with insurance coverage would be important steps in possible improvement,” he says.
Zaid also wants a stronger focus on environmental sustainability as companies move away from black packaging (which most communities cannot recycle) and move away from single-use vaporizers, which are also difficult and expensive to recycle.
Finally, he notes that product variety and choice, while ultimately a good thing, can be intimidating to new cannabis patients. “It is important for all manufacturers to meet patients where they are to make sure they feel safe buying and using the products that are best for their symptoms,” he says. “With so many products available, this becomes a more complex task to be solved successfully and requires a patient-centered approach.”
Devon Scoble is the guides editor for Leafly Canada. Devon has over a decade of lifestyle writer and editor experience and has focused solely on cannabis stories for the past three years. Find her on Twitter @devonscoble.
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