Canada’s largest pharmacy chain has announced plans to cover medical marijuana under its employee benefit plan, making Loblaw Companies Limited and Shoppers Drug Mart the largest private sector company to offer the perk.

According to an internal staff memo, the company – recently in the news for applying to become a licensed cannabis producer and retailer – will offer the unconventional coverage effective immediately up to a maximum of $1,500 per year.

Claims “will be considered only for prescriptions to treat spasticity and neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy for cancer patients,” said Basil Rowe, senior vice-president of human resources at Loblaw Companies Ltd., owner of Shoppers, in the memo.

“These are the conditions where the most compelling clinical evidence and literature supports the use of medical marijuana in therapy,” said Loblaw/Shoppers spokeswoman Tammy Smitham. “We will continue to review evidence as it become available for other indications.”

Cannabis isn’t yet covered under typical drug spending as it doesn’t have a Drug Identification Number recognized by insurers, so it will be covered through a special authorization process that will have employees pay and submit their claim afterward, according to Smitham.

Roughly 45,000 employees will be eligible for the benefit, including 22,000 Shoppers store staff, 3,000 corporate staff and 20,000 corporate and store management employees at George Weston/Loblaw.

h/t The Toronto Star