An attempt to stem the influx of pharmacies in the City of Langley’s downtown core got off to a rocky start on May 25, when council discovered that the City’s present bylaw governing methadone dispensing is, in fact, invalid.
Currently, there is a law on the City’s books that prohibits methadone dispensation without supervision by the Fraser Health Authority.
This is a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights, and is therefore not enforceable, council was told.
The point arose as council began discussing a proposed new bylaw that would preclude any new pharmacies from opening in the City within 400 metres of an existing one.
That conversation was cut short by a motion from Councillor Dave Hall to delay second reading of the proposed new bylaw until council is able to “correct the wrong that exists.” Hall’s amendment passed in a 4-3 vote, supported by Councillors Jack Arnold, Paul Albrecht and Val van den Broek.
The proposal for a pharmacy proximity bylaw came in response to a June 26, 2014 letter the City received from the Downtown Langley Business Association.
In it, association chair Sonya Perkins wrote that while the BIA recognizes the need for methadone dispensary, the concentration of pharmacies in the City’s core has become a cause for concern.
There are currently 12 pharmacies in the City with a 13th set to open soon in the Langley Mall. Of the 12, 10 currently dispense methadone.
Among the issues the BIA has with the proliferation of pharmacies is that downtown business owners feel the City is becoming a hub for treating people from other communities. They say it is leading to an increase in incidents of loitering and illegal drug activity as well as an increase in the number of homeless people in the City.
Hall objected to the idea that simply implementing tighter restrictions is the answer.
The bylaw, as it was presented, would be punitive to clientele who are receiving a legitimate medical treatment that is endorsed by a doctor, he said.
It would take an expert, Hall added, to look at the situation and definitively link the methadone distribution to an increase in the homelessness and drug use in the community.
“I don’t think we should be casting aspersions on hearsay,” Hall said.
Arnold said the proposed bylaw is discriminatory, noting the City has no such rules for grocery stores or coffee shops.
“I’m not sure why we would have one for pharmacies and only pharmacies.”
“We need to exercise community values,” said Councillor Rudy Storteboom. “This is the City of Langley, not the Downtown Eastside.”
Councillor Gayle Martin supported the intent of the proposed bylaw, but expressed concern that it might be “too little, too late.
“I wish we’d seen this coming a year ago.”She noted there are 109 methadone patients in Langley City.
“I’m not against the serving of methadone, but that’s an average of 10 customers per pharmacy.”
Martin said that while she has heard rumours about people being bused in from other communities to receive methadone in the City, she has never seen it herself.
“You just wonder how these pharmacies can stay in business,” she said, adding that she expects the number will eventually decrease through attrition.
Hall said the City needs to fix the original bylaw, before looking at ways to address the BIA’s concerns.
“This is out of step with what should happen.”
A subsequent lengthy discussion about the proper procedure for correcting the City’s invalid bylaw and proceeding with any zoning changes revealed that two separate public hearings (one will technically be a public input session) will be required.
The process could now spread out over the next three council meetings with the introduction of a business regulation amendment and a zoning amendment to deal with problems in the existing bylaw.
On June 29, a public hearing and a public input session into the two issues will take place.
Second reading of a proximity of pharmacies bylaw could also happen on June 29, but is more likely to happen in mid July, said the City’s corporate officer, Carolyn Mushata.
During discussion at first reading of the proposed proximity bylaw, Albrecht asked whether existing pharmacies would be grandfathered if they change ownership.
The City’s director of development services, Gerald Minchuk, explained that service is allowed to discontinue for up to six months, but if the business remains closed for any longer than that, it would not be allowed to re-open as a pharmacy.