06/11/2015 01:43 EDT | Updated 06/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Marijuana regulation hearings extended after long list of speakers sign up

The city has already added two new proposed regulations after hearing from concerned citizens about medical marijuana store regulations. 

It says it will limit operators to five licenses and an application will be declined if the owner has been convicted of a related-crime, such as drug trafficking, within the past five years.

More than a 160 speakers lined up to speak on Wednesday at city hall and give their feedback. Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, says she is in support of the regulations, instead of outright banning such shops.

"The bottom line is a regulatory approach to both recreational and medical marijuana is the best way of reducing the harm," she says. "Prohibition increases the harm."

The city has suggested that medicinal marijuana stores should be at least 300 metres from schools, community centres, neighbourhood houses and other marijuana-related businesses and recommended a licensing fee of $30,000 to recover costs paid by the city to manage and enforce new regulatory framework.

However, the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries says the city's current proposal is too strict and would mean the closure of roughly two-thirds of existing medical marijuana shops. 

"I understand their concerns but liquor stores only have a 150 metre distance from these places and we think that's more appropriate," says its spokesman Dana Larsen. 

First in Canada to regulate

There has been an explosion of pot stores in Vancouver in the past two years with 94 stores operating in the city currently.

If this bylaw passes, Vancouver would be the first government of any level in Canada to regulate pot dispensaries. 

But the city is treading on shaky legal ground say some lawyers, and Ottawa has been clear on its position: Only licensed corporate growers can sell medical marijuana to patients.

"That $30,000 [licensing fee] under the current criminal law could be considered proceeds of crime and the city could be involved in a co-conspirator in drug trafficking," says lawyer Tony Wilson. 

Still, the city is forging ahead. 

City manager Penny Ballem says Vancouver expects to spend $1.4 million on new staff resources if the proposed pot-related business bylaw passes. Staff also said its survey indicates a third of the city is in support, another third opposed and a the last third neutral towards regulation. 

The public hearing continues Thursday evening and could go into Saturday as well.