After initially applying for a license as a legal producer of medical marijuana in 2016, Canada’s largest pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart (TSE: SC) just received official approval this week from Health Canada.

The news arrives as recreational marijuana is on the verge of being legalized across the country following the passage of the Cannabis Act.

Spokesperson Catherine Thomas from Shoppers Drug Mart parent company Loblaw Companies Ltd issued this statement:

As trusted medication experts, we believe pharmacists have an important role to play in the safe and informed use of medical cannabis, and this is the first step in our journey to provide medical cannabis to our patients.Mark Goliger of National Access Cannabis

Shoppers Drug Mart currently operates more than 1,300 locations across nine provinces. According to a report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the pharmacy chain has inked supply deals with medical marijuana producers Tilray Inc., Aurora Cannabis, Aphria Inc., and MedReleaf Corp.

The move is in line with recommendations from the Canadian Pharmacists Association that cannabis for medical use continues to be distributed through pharmacies. The Association issued this statement via its website:

Pharmacists have an existing infrastructure that is already in place to handle controlled substances and have a secure supply chain to limit diversion. Pharmacist management and dispensing of medical cannabis is the best option to strengthen any future framework and protect patient and public safety.Mark Goliger of National Access Cannabis

The CBC report indicates Shoppers Drug Mart parent company Loblaw is currently eyeing the recreational market as well, with applications submitted to sell marijuana under the relaxed rules of the Cannabis Act in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Larger chains entering the recreational side of the business will help fill a niche that will initially be quite sparse as the industry becomes legal in less than a month. For instance, only four legal stores in compliance with the new law are currently slated to open in Manitoba next month.

That number is expected to explode in the coming year, although the overall access to marijuana may actually decline for a time as dispensaries operating outside the law struggle with compliance during the transition to full legalization.

Recreational marijuana usage for adults (19+) in Canadian private residences officially becomes legal on October 17, 2018.