Made-in-B.C. party drug is province’s latest export
B.C. residents are getting jail time south of the border for smuggling a drug that is still legal in Canada
A new party drug similar to ecstasy is increasingly being produced by British Columbia crime groups and smuggled into the United States, police say.
The chemical drug, known as BZP or Benzylpiperazine, is still legal in Canada, though banned in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries.
B.C. smugglers getting nabbed south of the border are facing stiff sentences for distributing BZP, even when they argue their actions were legal when they left home.
Just last week, North Vancouver’s Krysta Edwards, 23, got a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to smuggling hundreds of thousands of the BZP pills across the border for a drug gang that was storing them at a Washington warehouse, then shipping them by train to the Midwest for distribution.
B.C. resident Robert Fox is to be sentenced in California on Tuesday after getting caught a year ago with more than 200,000 pills that were a mixture of ecstasy and BZP. The U.S. Attorney wants Fox to go to jail for nine years. Fox is arguing that four years would be enough because he was just a mule “driving a truck from one place to another in accordance with the instructions issued by his superiors.”
Sgt. Peter Sadler, of the Vancouver police drug squad, said BZP is like a “low-rent” ecstasy.
“Two years ago, I never even heard of this. And now it is going up in leaps and bounds mainly because it is not restricted in Canada at this point,” Sadler said. “Huge amounts of it are crossing the line. In Washington state, at the border, they are making huge seizures and more frequently.”
RCMP Staff Sgt. Dave Goddard, of the Greater Vancouver drug section, said B.C. gangs may be deliberately manufacturing BZP to sidestep Canada’s drug laws.
“I think what certain organized crime groups are doing – at least some of the more sophisticated ones – are using this as a means to get around the law. Or at least they think they are getting around the law, by manufacturing something that in their minds is legal,” Goddard said.
But when BZP is sold as ecstasy to unknowing buyers, sellers could face charges, he said.
“Where they are misrepresenting it as another drug, then we do prosecute,” he said. “If we were to find it in somebody’s pocket and had it analysed, we wouldn’t be able to lay a charge.”
The same crime groups that produce other chemical drugs are making the BZP in the same clandestine labs in unhygienic conditions.
Sadler said there was a British case where a woman took BZP and died. There was also a New Zealand study which found 61 people who took BZP were hospitalized over five months.
“Can it kill? Yes it can. And when it is made by amateur chemists, you don’t always know what you’re getting,” Sadler said.
It is indistinguishable from ecstasy until it is tested in the lab.
“When you are buying something on the street, you have no idea what is in it,” Goddard warned.
Sgt. Shinder Kirk, of the Gang Task Force, said B.C. crime groups are always looking for an opportunity to expand their product lines.
“It certainly comes as no surprise that individuals or groups involved in trafficking have found yet another product or avenue in which to make money,” he said. “This certainly speaks directly to the issue of demand and any manner of illegal enterprise willing to satisfy it.”
Sadler said gangs with Asian connections seem to be leaders in BZP production.
Fox’s lawyer Victor Sherman argued in his sentencing memo that BZP should not be equated with ecstasy.
“There is a vast difference between the two drugs, with BZP far less powerful and dangerous,” Sherman said. “Commonly known as Benny Bears, [they] are a fairly mild stimulant widely marketed as an herbal energy supplement.”
While Health Canada is considering adding it to the list of controlled substances, it hasn’t happened yet.
More than a year ago, the government solicited input on banning BZP through the Canada Gazette.
“Health Canada has become aware that these substances are increasingly being used recreationally for their stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Pills containing these substances have increasingly been seen on the Canadian rave and party scene,” the Gazette article said.
But Health Canada spokesman Philippe Laroche said Thursday a decision has still not been made.
“Such a decision would mean that all activities with these substances, for example, possession, importation, exportation, distribution, production, etc., are illegal unless authorized by regulation,” he said.
Sadler said BZP’s legal status in Canada is just fuelling its growth.
“If it is not against the law, the resources of the police resources in Canada are somewhat hamstrung,” he said. “They can make it in Canada and then obviously the intention is you will try to send it across the line. That’s where your huge market is.”
BY KIM BOLAN,
APRIL 1, 2010