By Nichola Saminather

TORONTO (Reuters) – Manulife Financial Corp, Canada’s biggest insurance company, said on Tuesday it will partner with a drugstore chain owned by Loblaw Companies to provide advice to patients whose medical marijuana use it covers.

Manulife and Canadian rival Sun Life Financial Inc already provide limited medical cannabis cover for select clients, with annual limits and for a few conditions, making Canada one of the few countries in the world where insurers underwrite marijuana-related claims.

Starting this fall, trained pharmacists at Loblaw-owned Shoppers Drug Mart will give guidance to Manulife customers on the right strains of medical cannabis and the different ways to use it, Manulife said in a statement. Patients will still have to order medical cannabis from licensed producers and receive it by mail, as storefront access remains illegal.

Canadian law allows patients to pay for medical cannabis with money from healthcare spending accounts, which are financed by employers, but insurance companies make their own decisions on including it in their benefit plans.

Insurers have been slow to cover medical cannabis in a manner similar to pharmaceutical drugs, wary of the potentially high costs of coverage and a dearth of clinical evidence for its efficacy.

(Reporting By Nichola Saminather; Editing by Frances Kerry)