Monday, June 15, 2015

Regulating away the bad: pharmacies and Downtown Langley

Over the past several years, the amount of pharmacies in Downtown Langley has skyrocketed. The Downtown Langley Business Association sent a letter to City of Langley Council last summer about this proliferation. I posted about this last summer.

According to the Downtown Langley BIA:

Many downtown businesses have witnessed the dispensing of methadone in some of these pharmacies, and we believe this is one of the main reasons for this increase. While we acknowledge the need for methadone maintenance treatment services offered in the community, the concentration of these pharmacies in the downtown present several concerns to us including:

-Becoming a hub for methadone treatment from other communities
-Increased loitering and impact on neighboring business
-Increased homeless population and illegal drug activity

Back in 2012, I posted how the City of Langley was on a moral crusade, and prohibited a whole range of business types. Existing businesses could continue to operate, but new prohibited businesses are not allowed. One of the business types banned was:

The use of any premises, other than facilities operated by or under the supervision of the Fraser Health Authority, for the dispensing of methadone or heroin for use on the premises.

It appears that the City of Langley may have overstepped its legal authority as at tonight’s council meeting, Council is voting to change that section of the zoning bylaw to potentially read:

The use of any premises for the dispensing of heroin for use on the premises, and the use of any premises other than a licensed pharmacy for the dispensing of methadone for use on the premises.

Methadone can only be dispensed from a licensed pharmacy, and selling heroin would be illegal under federal legislation, so I’m not sure what this section of the City of Langley zoning bylaw will accomplish.

This City is also proposing the following changes to its business license bylaw for pharmacies:

-Require Applicant Identification and professional registration with the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia
-Restrict home delivery of methadone to persons for whom home delivery has been prescribed by a physician
-Require waiting area and seating for at least 3 patrons ingesting methadone on premises
-Require a pharmacy to indicate the hours and days it is open to the public and must be open to customers by unlocked doors specified.

In addition, the City of Langley is also looking into a bylaw that would prevent a new pharmacy from opening within 400 metres of an existing pharmacy.

Assuming that it is legal to enact the 400 metre rule, and the City does approve such a bylaws, there will still be a concentration of pharmacies in Downtown Langley today.

One of the challenges of regulating “undesirable” businesses is that a municipality is playing a never ending game of whack-a-mole. One “undesirable” business replaces a former.

The long-term solution is to invest in Downtown Langley. This means investing in the public realm. It also means partnering with private business and the development community to build projects that will transform Downtown Langley. A local example is the City of Vancouver’s partnership with private business to redevelop the Woodward's Building in the Downtown East Side. This investment triggered positive change in that community.

As an area becomes more desirable, the “undesirable” businesses, which are normal financially marginal anyways, get replaced.

It is much better, though much harder, to encourage and foster positive changes for a community than trying to regulate away the bad. Because in the end, regulation will not be as successful.

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