Bloc Pot, Quebec’s pro-pot political party, says the fight is far from over despite federal plans to legalize weed. “Now more than ever, we need a unified voice, and we need to be even more demanding,” party spokesperson Hugo St-Onge said.
The party will release a statement on September 5 lobbying the Quebec government to put pressure on their federal counterparts to pull cannabis from federal hands—and therefore criminal law—and surrender the issue entirely to Quebec’s jurisdiction. “Everyone is accepting peanuts because that’s what the federal government is offering. We want more. We don’t want people in prison anymore.” St-Onge said.
According to St-Onge, cannabis should be a provincial responsibility because it is a local market and economy, and an issue of agricultural development and health. Moreover, he believes that the framework proposed by Trudeau’s government, which keeps cannabis in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act—an exercise of criminal law power under federal jurisdiction—is typical of the government’s “sustained war against the people who enjoy, sell and produce cannabis.” He estimates that Quebec is home to one million “cannabis amateurs”—people who enjoy cannabis or partake in the cannabis industry.
He said that other than corporate medical marijuana outfits, cannabis amateurs have been completely excluded from discussions. Bloc Pot was not invited to an “experts’ forum” held in June in Montreal’s Palais de Congrès, where medical and legal professionals spoke about how legalization would affect areas such as road and workplace safety, consumption, taxation, contraband, medical and recreational use, and health aspects and prevention.
St-Onge added that he believes the current federal framework will just facilitate “a new type of persecution,” pointing to the fact that it outlines plans for even more severe criminal penalties written into law. For example, the maximum sentence for dealing cannabis to a minor is being upped to 14 years.
Cannabis lawyer Kirk Tousaw said that while the federal government could surrender jurisdiction to the provinces from a legal and jurisdictional perspective, “whether it is feasible from a political perspective is a different story.” He added that Bloc Pot is not alone in its request. “There’s lot of people across the country who are advocating for regulatory sanctions, not jail or criminal sanctions, for cannabis violations.”
Tousaw added that while “the idea that [cannabis] should be a non-criminal offense has a lot of attractiveness and makes a lot of sense,” the current political and regulatory framework “emphasises control and regulatory power over the civil liberties and freedom arguments for legalization.”
Trudeau has repetitively justified legalization because it will fight organised crime and protect youth at risk. St-Onge pointed out that these are also the two most common reasons prime ministers have used to defend prohibition since 1961.
However, Tousaw clarified that the law will not necessarily be harsher post-legalization. While in some areas the law on cannabis will be more severe: “for most offenses, the Cannabis Act will reduce, not increase the maximum penalty,” adding that there are some “subtle reductions that may make things better for consumers” that those not fully acquainted with the criminal justice works might miss. For example, “it will open up pathways for the exercise of discretion.”
The Quebec government is running a series of public consultations across the province over the next three weeks. On a federal level, the House of Commons Health Committee is reconvening on September 11, a week ahead of Parliament’s fall sitting, to hold hearings on the Cannabis Act.
Bloc Pot candidates have run in five provincial elections since its formation in 1997, but the party has never won a seat at Quebec’s national assembly. It remains active and St-Onge said it will present candidates at the 2018 provincial elections.
Featured image by Dean Bere.