British Columbia

Fentanyl crisis requires B.C. pill press ban, NDP MLA says

While NDP public safety critic Mike Farnworth wants the legislature to convene for a ban on pill presses in the province, the government says it's the federal government that needs to make it happen.

NDP public safety critic wants legislature to convene for vote on pill press ban in B.C.

In March, West Kelowna RCMP made a major drug bust, which included this pill press believed to be covered in powdered fentanyl. (RCMP)

After 14 overdoses in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Sunday night, an NDP MLA is renewing his call for strict regulation of pill presses that can be used to manufacture fentanyl pills.

Mike Farnworth is the MLA for Port Coquitlam and the NDP's public safety critic, and over the summer, he tabled a bill modelled after one in Alberta that would limit pill press ownership to pharmacists.

However, the government cancelled the fall session, which means the legislature won't see the bill again until January.

"Right now, there are companies in this province selling those machines and they know exactly the purpose they are being used for," Farnworth told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"These businesses and these individuals are profiting from the overdose crisis. They are profiting from the deaths of people in this province."

Farnworth said it was "unacceptable" that pill presses are still available in B.C. to anyone who can afford one.

He believes if the premier were to convene a fall sitting of the legislature, his bill would pass with bipartisan support.

'No legitimate reason to have one of these machines'

Alberta brought in legislation that passed unanimously. It provides for a fine of up to $50,000 fine for a first offence and up to $375,000 and one year in jail for a third offence.

NDP MLA Mike Farnworth wants the premier to convene a fall sitting of the legislature to pass his bill. (CBC)

The law, once it takes effect in January, will be the first of its kind in Canada, and Mike Ellis, the Progressive Conservative MLA behind the bill, expressed hope other provinces and the federal government would follow suit.

Farnworth also wants federal action but says the government is wrong for not taking action in the meantime.

He says if B.C. were to pass a similar ban, it would empower police to hold people with such devices accountable in the province.

As it stands, he says, even if police find someone with a pill press, there's nothing they can do about it.

"Unless you're a pharmacy making pills, there's no legitimate reason to have one of these machines," Farnworth said. "They are used for one purpose, and one purpose only: to manufacture illegal pills laced with fentanyl and they are a key component of the fentanyl crisis."

Government says feds need to take action

A statement from Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris says the government is supportive of a pill press ban in principle but national action is needed.

B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Morris says it's the feds who need to bring in laws against pill presses. (CBC/Marc Trudeau)

Morris says pill presses are a problem, but even if there's a ban in B.C., pill-form fentanyl will just come from out of province.

"A patchwork of provincial laws is less effective in managing a national issue, and we have strong signs from the federal government that they are considering a Canada wide-law," the statement read. "Having national and provincial laws on the books both targeting the same evil could result in confusion for enforcement."

The statement reads that if no federal action is forthcoming, B.C. will proceed with its own legislation.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the interview with NDP MLA Mike Farnworth, click the audio labelled: Why are pill presses legal in B.C.? NDP MLA wants to know