A private member's bill to restrict access to pill presses used to make illegal drugs like fentanyl and W18 passed second reading in the Alberta legislature Monday.
Bill 205, the Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, received the unanimous support of MLAs from all parties. The bill will now move into committee of the whole, the next step for the bill to become law.
The proposed legislation would limit the purchase of pill presses, table machines, capsule filling machines and pharmaceutical mixers to pharmacists or people holding a licence.
Mike Ellis, the Progressive Conservative MLA behind the bill, said police officers have told him pill presses are often present whenever they bust fentanyl labs.
"Bill 205 puts Alberta at the forefront of the fentanyl fight in our nation," Ellis told the legislature. "It may empower other provinces to introduce their own laws."
Ellis said Bill 205 may also convince the federal government to follow suit and take additional measures to fight the manufacture of fentanyl.
"But we do not have to wait for anyone," he added.
Provincial measures not enough?
Rod Loyola, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie, told the legislature the bill doesn't go far enough.
He said the federal government, through the criminal code, would be in a better position to impose higher fines and stop these devices from coming into Canada.
Ottawa can slap first offenders with a fine of $100,000 and six months in jail for a first offence, compared to a $50,000 fine under Bill 205.
"These may not be a sufficient deterrent to reduce pill press use," Loyola said. He added that pill presses should be uniformly regulated across the country.
"An individual could just drive over the provincial border to B.C. or Saskatchewan and legally purchase a pill press in that jurisdiction...it is unlikely the measures in this bill will provide a substantial deterrent."
"I would urge the member bringing forward this bill to join us in our call for the federal government to take up the regulation of pill presses."
Loyola's remarks prompted PC MLA Dave Rodney to raise suspicions that the NDP planned to vote against the bill. He urged government MLAs to reconsider.
"I implore you. Drop the party colours, do the right thing and pass this bill quickly," Rodney said.
Rodney's remarks provoked the only partisan flare-up in the debate. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman rebuked Rodney for his remarks.
"Assuming that somebody's remarks about federal responsibility imply that they're going to vote against a provincial bill, I think is shortsighted and wrongheaded," she said, adding that it was equally shortsighted and disrespectful for Rodney to assume the government was rallying to oppose the bill."
MLAs from every party voted for the bill to pass second reading. If passed, the bill will be the first of its kind in Canada.