The companies that own Safeway and Thrifty Foods grocery stores in B.C. have won a court fight to resume customer-incentive programs at their pharmacies.
Today, B.C. Supreme Court chief justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia's ban on these "incentives" is "overly broad".
Hinkson stated in his decision that the college can craft new bylaws that "reasonably address" certain issues outlined in his ruling. "If new and different concerns come to the attention of the respondent, it will, of course, be open to it to address those concerns by the adoption of other bylaws," he wrote.
The college's bylaws defined incentives to include "money, gifts, discounts, rebates, refunds, customer loyalty schemes, coupons, goods or rewards".
The grocery chains argued that the college's bylaws were "unreasonable" because there's no evidence of harm that justifies such a broad prohibition.
In addition, the companies argued that the bylaws "go beyond what could be required to address the theoretical harms raised". Moreover, they claimed that the net effect of the bylaws is that they were harmful to the public interest.
The regulator argued that "bonus days" in which customers would receive more than the usual reward points for purchases could "potentially cause an unmanageable increase in workload for on-duty pharmacists".
This, it claimed, "could increase the likelihood of them to make errors in filling prescriptions".
In addition, the college alleged that bonus days might cause consumers to delay filling necessary prescriptions until they could get more rewards.
Another claim was that these programs could cause customers to transfer prescriptions between pharmacies, undermining continuity of care.
Yet another objection was that the programs could cause customers to obtain more drugs than necessary to get more rewards.
Finally, the college maintained that if pharmacists spent too much time explaining incentive programs, this would leave less time to discuss medications with customers.
According to Hinkson's ruling, the college "received some 14,000 emails" from the public on the matter.
"The considerable majority of these emails opposed a prohibition of the incentive programs associated with the purchase of drugs or devices," he noted.