Pharmacists Prepping to Muscle Marijuana Sales in Illinois


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If Joseph Friedman has his way, marijuana will be dispensed medically and recreationally by pharmacists in Illinois later this year.

"Having pharmacists dispense is just the proper way to manage cannabis to protect the public and handle a medication that is not necessarily new but has broad implications for doing so much more," said Friedman, director of marketing and business development for Mark Drugs, a compounding pharmacy in Lincolnshire.

While a bud tender's salary starts at about $18 an hour at Blum, a marijuana dispensary in Oakland, a pharmacist's hourly rate is $45 to $55 depending on the state.

"The presence of pharmacists would definitely threaten bud tenders currently manning dispensary counters," said Friedman, who is also a licensed pharmacist. "A shift in business expenses would certainly occur."

That's because pharmacists bring specialized knowledge to any table evident when patients visit a chain of pharmacies that are all connected with a database, which includes information about other prescriptions.

"A pharmacist can tell you how marijuana will interact with your current medications and medical conditions," Friedman said. "The database alerts us to the potential of negative interactions. Bud tenders don't have access to this database."

The four-year medical marijuana pilot program that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law allows eligible people with medical conditions to legally use the drug after they obtain a medical marijuana card from a doctor with whom they have an established relationship.

"I don't think medical dispensaries will be terribly affected by pharmacists entering the marketplace because most patients would probably prefer to use the dispensary over the more sterile pharmacy," said Darrin C. Duber-Smith, marketing professor with Metropolitan State University of Denver. "However, some of the weaker, struggling dispensaries might have to offer retail marijuana to survive."

While Illinois is the twentieth to legalize medical marijuana, it has been described as among the nation's strictest.

"After the four-year pilot program, it's anyone's guess what will happen," said Friedman. "If it goes recreational, you might see cannabis products sold over the counter at national drug stores, such as Walgreens or CVS, and even in liquor stores."

Still, cannabis won't be dispensed at CVS or Walgreens until the Federal Controlled Substance Act reclassifies the plant-based drug from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 and pharmaceutical manufacturers produce FDA approved cannabis products.

"Our hope is to apply for more than one dispensary license once the application submission process is launched in the later part of the summer or fall of this year," said Friedman, who is in the process of launching a limited liability corporation called Professional Dispensaries of Illinois.

In the meantime, the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP) has created a task force called Management of Medical Marijuana.

Founded in 2012, the NASP represents specialty pharmacy professionals and provides educational programs, a certification curriculum and professional networking forums for healthcare professionals to promote the safe and appropriate use of specialty medications.

"If the intent of medical marijuana is to be actual medicine and if we can't buy it as an over-the-counter drug, then it is only logical that pharmacies would be able to sell it," Duber-Smith said. "Until then, marijuana dispensaries are acting as a pharmacy."

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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