Bloc Pot candidate Hugô St-Onge talks anti-prohibition, stigma and inclusivity.
“I think prohibition is just a tool of persecution. Period. Then you just have all of the other bullshit to justify it,” said Hugô St-Onge.
St-Onge doesn’t use what he calls “the language of public relations” to state his position on cannabis legalization in Canada. In fact, he is loud and clear when he says that legalization, the way the Canadian government has chosen to proceed with it, is just a smokescreen to obscure a prohibitionist agenda.
St-Onge is a candidate for Bloc Pot, running in the Laurier-Dorion riding in the upcoming provincial election. The 44 year-old father of two might seem like an unlikely candidate. He was adamantly against drugs in his adolescence after seeing the darker side of substance use manifest in the form of alcoholism. He was 18 when he smoked his first joint, and it wasn’t until several years later, after a severe bike accident, that St-Onge became a frequent cannabis user during his recovery. “For those six to seven years, I was using weed for medical purposes and for anxiety but I didn’t know it,” he recalled. “I only started to make the connection in my 30s.”
Years later, St-Onge is an outspoken pro-cannabis advocate and a major voice leading the discussion about legalization in the province.
Bloc Pot isn’t asking for your votes so much as asking for your attention. Its status as a registered political party allows its candidates to engage with fellow politicians about the issues surrounding cannabis at a level where advocacy groups and non-profit organizations are routinely dismissed.
The key points of their platform include establishing a legalization policy through an open and inclusive legislative process, educating the public about cannabis, and breaking down stigma around its culture and users. Overhauling existing institutions is also a priority. To do so, they outline their intentions to expedite access to medical cannabis for all patients, advocate for cannabis users that have fallen victim to the judicial system prior to legalization, and to amend Quebec’s Election Act.
“We have a really clear position: we are anti-prohibitionist. We want the end of prohibition, and this begins with removing cannabis from the Criminal Code. If you do that, then the federal government has no right, power, or reason to deal with cannabis,” said St-Onge. “It should be a provincial responsibility to deal with the questions of health, the market, and agriculture.”
Bill C-45, the federal legislation for cannabis legalization, will come into force on Oct. 17. However, St-Onge said this milestone is no reason to celebrate. Under the new act, there will be more rules and regulations restricting the production, distribution, consumption, and criminality of cannabis than ever before, with many of the logistics being determined on a provincial level.
Quebec has adopted its own framework, the Cannabis Regulation Act, which further restricts the guidelines laid out in C-45. This includes a blanket ban on home-growing and a government monopoly on the retail of cannabis with a newly-created subsidiary of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ): the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC).
“People say to us, ‘Why does Bloc Pot exist if there is now [cannabis] legalization?’” said St-Onge. “But I would ask them, ‘What is the meaning of legalization?’ For us, legalization is about more than what the government is presenting. Legalization is just a word, but what is our objective?”
St-Onge strongly disagrees with what he sees as an oligarchy determining the nature of the cannabis market. “We should have many producers, because this will ensure better accessibility, price, and supply. Licenses should be easy to to get, like a micro-brasserie licence. If [cannabis] isn’t more dangerous than beer, it shouldn’t be more restricted under the law,” said St-Onge. “For us, it is really important that more people should be involved in the market, not less, and from the bottom up.”
Inclusivity is embedded in the mission of Bloc Pot, starting with an effort to involve cannabis entrepreneurs and consumers in the creation of regulations that protect their freedoms. “[Cannabis users] have a right to be involved in the systems that concern us,” said St-Onge. “If you talk about legislating women’s rights and you have a table of just men, it makes no sense. So why, for the question of cannabis, do you only have people and professions who have supported prohibitionist policies at the table?”
The bottom-up approach is reflected in Bloc Pot’s slogan, “Grow Equality, Social Equality, Equality in Opportunity” (“Pousse Égal, Égalité Sociale, Égalité en Opportunité”). “Ending prohibition, for us, is integrating people into the market, because prohibition pushes people out and denies them their civil rights,” said St-Onge. “We think we have the right to be equal in social matters and opportunity,” meaning that everyone should have the chance to be involved in the budding market, contrary to the SDQC’s requirement that potential employees have no previous record of cannabis-related offences.
St-Onge said equality is a loaded term, and reaching a place where stigma is not a pervasive force in shaping the public’s opinion of cannabis requires government acknowledgement of the discriminatory practices, unnecessary prosecution, and wrongful criminalization of cannabis users. “[Cannabis users] are not bad people; we are being made into criminals by a system.” He added that the nuances of race and class must be a central part of the conversation if the public is to change the systems that oppress them.
To read Bloc Pot’s campaign solely as a radical call for a weed revolution would be missing the point; cannabis-related issues are important, especially given the timing of the provincial election, but they are only the tip of the political iceberg. “Weed, for me, is a reason to talk about political hypocrisy. Bloc Pot questions the power of the institution to persecute [cannabis users] like us for no good reason,” said St-Onge. “We are using pot as a symbol to talk about that. Weed is a plant; the politics are the problem.”
Photos by Mackenzie Lad.