You’ve done the research, joined the forums and spoken to other patients; you take the plunge and book your first appointment with a cannabis doctor.  To your surprise, it is a simple process, much like a regular appoint with your GP.  The consultation concludes and you are informed you have been prescribed medical cannabis.  The doctor informs you the prescription is being sent to “a dispensing pharmacy” and you are elated at the thought of natural relief to your chronic condition.  For some, the dispensing process is as simple as the appointment and the medicine is received within 48 hours (or less).  For others, well, the hard work has just begun. 

To help navigate the dispensing process, below is a summary of the existing process, some of the challenges, how to navigate them and what is coming to streamline the process.

The “Default” Pharmacy

It is import to know that any and all pharmacies have the ability to dispense medicinal cannabis.  That said, not all will, for a number of reasons:

  • Additional paperwork/checks before dispensing
  • Only limited stock able to be kept
  • Perceived security threat
  • Morally opposed (surprisingly still an issue)

As such, most clinics will have a handful of reliable pharmacies they work with who are proficient in dispensing of cannabis medicines.  One should note that while there are preferred partners, patients have the absolute right to request a different pharmacy. 

One might wonder why there are significant hold ups then, if most clinics are working with specialised pharmers.  More often that not, this due to stock issues.

Medicinal Cannabis Availability

There are two sides to this topic;

  1. Delayed stock
  2. Out of stock

Delayed Stock

A very common frustration of medicinal cannabis patients is the excessive wait times to receive the product.  Up until recently, this was often due to doctors waiting on the SAS approval from the federal government, before a medical could be officially prescribed.  More recently, however, prescribing doctors are becoming Authorised Prescribers, eliminating the need (and subsequent time) for an SAS approval.  Assuming this is case in this hypothetical, the next most common delay is the wait time on the stock arriving.  Under the currently legislation, a pharmacy can only order medicinal cannabis products into their store based off existing prescriptions.  For example, if 10 patients have a prescription for “Product X” with three repeats, then the pharmacy can order 40 units.  Given the ever-increasing range of products in the space, often a pharmacy will need to order in real time, adding an additional day or so.  Unless, of course, the product is out of stock. 

Out of Stock

This ranks as on the greatest frustrations for patients, as many rely on consistency to best treat their indication.  Stock outages can occur for a number of reasons, some of which are due to the medicine being a bioproduct and will be at the mercy of it’s grow cycle.  Even these can only be done based on confirmed orders, so many licenced manufacturers limit the size of their grow.  This is amplified by the relatively short shelf life of the products and the requirement to avoid burying products that may have only slightly denigrated, but have varied from their label claim as a result. 

The above is quite understandable, but there will be some reading this who will have seen an Authorised Prescriber and ordered a product they reliably know the pharmacy has in stock, but are still hamstrung due to…

Teething Issues

We appreciate there is no excuse for “rude” service.  However, too many patients have what they describe as a “confusing” experience with their pharmacy, be it:

  • Left on hold until the phone cuts out
  • Told they don’t have the script, only to find it later
  • Uncertainty on dosage
  • Product taking days/weeks to be sent, even after a tracking number is received

Unfortunately, this is generally chalked up to realities of an emerging industry.  Essentially, patients are often dealing with staff who are trying to learn new process (which can change with the stroke of a legislator’s pen), multiple ordering systems and antiquated processes.  And while this can be very frustrating, some understanding and constructive feedback can be helpful in smoothing the process out.  What can not be chalked up to “learnings” however, is predatory pricing.  Generally speaking, a product has a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) that a pharmacy is expected to stick to.  That said, if it is their prerogative to charge extra, then one might want to consider looking elsewhere.  While it is appreciated pharmacies need to cover their expenses, companies such as Elevated Extracts, Tasmanian Botanic and Grandiosa are sacrificing profits to provide affordable medicine for the patients and it is a shame that some pharmacies would rather hold onto the extra margin for themselves.

Hope on the Horizon

As with any industry that is experiencing rapid growth, innovation is imminent.  At the moment, cannabis specific pharmacies are popping up around the nation.  Moreover, Canwell is merely weeks away from launching ‘Your Prescriptions’, which will allow patients to:

  • Order products direct from the website
  • Order products immediately after the appoint
  • Add over-the-counter products and accessories
  • Know in real time any stock delay and ETA on products
  • Real time notifications and updates
  • Contact details to speak with a human

Please Note: Dispensing is done via a pharmacy partner.  Patients can request an independent pharmacy of their choice.  Full T&Cs will be available at launch.