What's the Future for Pharmacists in the Cannabis Industry?
James Y Asked
I just needed to get as much information as possible before electing a career path in being a medical marijuana dispensary pharmacist in NY. I question the future outlook since recreational marijuana is legal in NYS and wonder if these dispensaries may just convert to a recreational retail setting where a pharmacist is no longer mandated. Can you comment on where this sector is heading as far as a pharmacist is concerned? I fear that all pharmacists will be out of a job overnight potentially in the near future. How is it playing out in other states where both medical and recreational are legal?
Hi James, and thanks for the excellent question! I’ll do my best to give you some information that will help with your decision.
First, you should know that I contemplated the same question you're asking yourself and I ultimately decided to quit my job working in a dispensary after 3 years. Part of the uncertainty about job security that you alluded to in your question definitely played a role in my decision, but so did other factors like my commute, my own clinical interests, and my personal life at the time (my first daughter was born).
Should I take a pharmacist job at a dispensary?
This is entirely up to you! I'd say that if you are interested in cannabis then go for it! Working in a dispensary can be a unique role for a pharmacist. However, not every dispensary or cannabis company will understand how to use pharmacists effectively. Some dispensaries have pharmacists who handle all initial patient consultations and patient questions. In other dispensaries, pharmacists might be more behind the scenes, dispensing products and managing inventory.
One thing to keep in mind is that dispensaries operate on a volume-based business model, just like a retail pharmacy does, so there’s no incentive for dispensaries to have pharmacists spend a ton of time educating patients.
There are many pharmacists working for dispensaries who find the work incredibly fulfilling. There is also ample opportunity to use your skillset to make a real impact on patients.
Pharmacist's Expertise and Medical Cannabis
- Drug interactions
- Side effects
- Monitoring Parameters
- Dosage forms
- Routes of administration
Pharmacists are well-equipped to help answer common questions about medical cannabis!
Pharmacists and recreational dispensaries
No state law requires pharmacists at recreational dispensaries. It'd kind of be like requiring a pharmacist to be your bartender (although some say a bartender is just a pharmacist with a limited inventory).
How has this played out in other states?
Unfortunately, this hasn't played out in pharmacists' favor in other states. In Pennsylvania, they are slowly reducing the role of pharmacists at dispensaries. This started out by changing a legal requirement that a pharmacist (or other healthcare professional) is required onsite at all dispensaries to allow for remote supervision of up to 4 dispensaries.
The patient experience in Pennsylvania suffered as a result of this. Its medical cannabis program is basically just like a recreational program that doesn't provide any meaningful guidance for patients.
Advocating for your profession
If you do decide to work in a dispensary, it's important that you advocate for your profession. After NY legalized recreational cannabis, the State submitted regulations for the medical program that would do the same thing that Pennsylvania did; allow pharmacists to supervise numerous stores remotely.
We asked doctors to comment about the change on local news stations; we asked PSSNY, ISCPh, providers, patients, and family members to submit comments to the State opposing the change.
Our plan worked and the regulations were changed to require onsite supervision by pharmacists (at least for now). This has raised some fuss recently.
Unfortunately, I'm bearish on pharmacists being required onsite at medical dispensaries long term. I believe pharmacists will be phased out, but I hope I'm wrong. Cannabis companies will eventually acquire enough capital to influence regulations that tilt the scales in their favor (not in the favor of the public). This happens in every industry and is an inherent part of capitalism.
Working in a dispensary can open up a lot of additional opportunities. You could start your own medical cannabis therapy management clinic; provide continuing medical education about cannabis; or get involved in clinical research, or formulation science. Some pharmacists I know have even successfully applied for and obtained licenses to operate their own cannabis businesses.
Let's not forget what the pharmacists here at CannaBuff do too! They can help you find cost savings, discuss drug interactions, and more!
So to summarize, while the days of pharmacists working in retail dispensaries might not last forever, new opportunities abound. In the meantime, I'd say working in a dispensary is a great job for a pharmacist to use their skill set and learn a lot about an exciting new industry.
If you're interested in cannabis, I say go for it. Working in a dispensary was super fun and helped open up a ton of opportunities for me. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I hope this helps you make up your mind!