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Under the city’s proposed new regulations, pot-related businesses would not be allowed to open within 300 metres of a school or community centre or another marijuana-related operationJohn Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver's proposed new regulations for marijuana-related businesses, which go before a public hearing Wednesday, include distancing requirements designed to help control the proliferation of pot shops on city streets.

But a similar policy related to small pharmacies – including those that dispense methadone – appears to have done little to stem the concentration of methadone pharmacies in the Downtown Eastside, despite being on the books since 2005.

The policy, which is among 21 "business-specific policies and guidelines" that apply to operations such as liquor stores, churches and seniors housing, says "a small-scale pharmacy should not be located within 400 metres of the property line of an existing pharmacy or small-scale pharmacy."

But a 2015 provincial review of B.C.'s Methadone Maintenance Payment Program said there were eight pharmacies providing methadone services on a six-block stretch of Hastings Street, including two instances of two pharmacies being on the same block. That review did not name the pharmacies involved.

Records shows the city last year renewed business licences for two small pharmacies across the street from one another on East Hastings Street.

The city issued a business licence for Native Vancouver Pharmacy, at 50 East Hastings St., in November. In December, it issued a business licence for Tungs Management, at 67 East Hastings St. Both sites cater primarily to people taking methadone as a treatment for drug addiction.

The two pharmacies came to be operating across the street from one another after one – which had been in business for 25 years – filed papers to operate in a new commercial space on the block.

At the same time that process was under review, a different company applied for a building permit to do renovations at the old property.

"Because the space was previously approved as a small-scale pharmacy, the applicant also received an occupancy permit to be in the space," John Greer, assistant director of the city's Development Review Branch, said in an e-mail. "As a result, the City approved the applicant's business licence because the use and occupancy requirements were met."

In the process, however, the city inadvertently flouted its own guidelines on distances between small pharmacies. The city has recognized the lapse and changed its system to require zoning applications that should prevent repeat occurrences, a city spokesman said on Monday.

As it turns out, the Native Vancouver Pharmacy is expected to close, but not because of its location. On May 29, the College of Pharmacists of B.C. ordered the operation to close, citing public-health violations, including rat droppings on the premises, a lack of hot running water and a "dirty, dilapidated" environment that was not appropriate for patient care.

The college said it would suspend the pharmacy's licence on June 12. The two-week notice period was provided so that the pharmacy's clients could find new pharmacies and obtain new prescriptions. Methadone prescriptions are not transferable.

Under the city's proposed new marijuana regulations, marijuana-related businesses would not be allowed to open within 300 metres of a school or community centre or another marijuana-related operation and would have to pay a $30,000 annual licensing fee.

The city came up with the new guidelines in response to dozens of largely unregulated dispensaries that have popped up on city streets in recent years.

According to a staff report, Vancouver's first marijuana-related business (the B.C. Compassion Club) opened around 1997. Over the past three years, the number of similar businesses has climbed to more than 80.

All are violating federal drug laws, both by illegally obtaining marijuana and then selling it to consumers. The majority are unlicensed, although city records show about a dozen have obtained a business licence, some by registering as community associations.

Marijuana advocate Dana Larsen said he expects at least 80 supporters to attend Wednesday's public hearings and to raise concerns, including the proposed buffer zone of 300 metres – which he maintains is too strict – licensing fees and restrictions on edible marijuana products.