Pot politics in Quebec
Despite adversity, Quebec's Bloc Pot party challenges the system in Provincial election
Cannabis Culture, 5 août 2003
Par Reverend Damuzi
Canada's first pro-pot political party, Quebec's Bloc Pot, celebrated their fifth anniversary battling biased press, rigged all-candidates meetings, crooked cops, and undemocratic voting requirements during Quebec's recent provincial election, held April 14, 2003.
During the election, Bloc Pot Leader Hugô St-Onge told Cannabis Culture that many in the mostly french-speaking province believed cannabis to be a non-issue, because the two parties favored to win: the Parti Québécois (PQ) and Quebec Liberals had both included cannabis law reform in their platforms.
The PQ's main platform is to hold a referendum to separate Quebec from Canada. St-Onge warned voters against the widely held belief that the PQ would legalize cannabis if they made Quebec into an independent nation. "If they win a referendum, the PQ plans to make Quebec join the United Nations, and sign the UN's convention against pot," said the fiery St-Onge. "But the PQ doesn't want to clarify the situation."
In the end the Quebec Liberals defeated the incumbent PQ, taking a majority with 76 of the province's 125 seats. Their platform included what St-Onge called "Cauchon-decrim," referring to Federal Minister of Justice Martin Cauchon, who has been promising to decriminalize for the last seven months.
"Cauchon-decrim is punishment without court," St-Onge told voters. "You won't even have a judge, just the police giving you a ticket!"
The Bloc Pot turned heads with its slogan "On va les planter!" which has the double meaning of "We will beat them!" and "We will plant them!"
On election day, the Bloc Pot demonstrated the full meaning of their slogan. The party gave cannabis clones, pots, and fertile earth to supporters in exchange for a donation, and then issued the would-be grower a tax credit. The Tax Credit Concept (TCC) is a Bloc Pot/Canadian Marijuana Party project by which the parties hope to raise funds and spread political awareness.
"We will plant pot by helping people get the seeds and all the stuff to grow," St-Onge said. "The government will give money to the people to end prohibition, because we will issue a tax credit for the things they need to make pot."
CNN broadcasted the election-day clone giveaway, giving them their most positive media coverage of the election. St-Onge had complained that many local papers failed to even mention the campaigns of his fellow Bloc Pot candidates, although they did give coverage to candidate Benjamin Kasapoglu being arrested for handing out the party's political flyers on a busy Quebec City street, an activity that Kasapoglu says is protected by the city's own ordinances.
"The police officer took me by my jacket and told me not to do that," said Kasapoglu. "After that he arrested me, and explained to me that nothing would have happened if I was not in the Bloc Pot."
Kasapoglu was searched, relieved of his pipe and pot, given a $255 ticket for mischief and released. He defiantly continued to distribute flyers and promises to fight the fine, which he calls unlawful and undemocratic. The police, for their part, promise to charge him for cannabis possession, although Kasapoglu has yet to receive notice of the charge.
Setbacks and challenges
The party originally hoped to run undauntable candidates like Kasapoglu in every one of Quebec's 125 electoral districts mirroring a feat accomplished by the BC Marijuana Party in the 2001 BC election (CC#33, Marijuana Party makes BC history). Unfortunately, all but 56 Bloc Pot candidates were disqualified by Elections Quebec, the agency that runs the province's elections.
"To be a candidate you need 100 signatures from eligible voters." said St-Onge. "This messed up a lot of candidates because the people who signed weren't on the voters' list. It's been really weird in Quebec since 1998. They brought out new rules so that you can only get on the voters' list five days before election day. Voting is a right guaranteed by the constitution, but they have made it harder instead of easier. I know a lot of people who wanted to vote but couldn't."
Bloc Pot candidates who qualified for the election faced more hurdles, including being barred from so-called all-candidates meetings, where the public and press meet with candidates.
"90% of Bloc Pot candidates were excluded from all-candidates meetings," said St-Onge, angrily. "They didn't invite me to the one in my district, so I showed up and fought for it. They let me talk for three minutes of the night, and then the local newspaper cut the photo of me and didn't mention me in their article [about the meeting]."
Yet even in the face of adversity, the Bloc Pot won ground and spread cannabis awareness far and wide. In a preliminary count, the Bloc Pot captured over 23,000 votes (.6%), winning more support than Quebec's Green, Equality, Democratic-Christian, and Marxist-Leninist parties. Unlike many of their competitors, much of the Bloc Pot's financial support came not from industrialists with a hidden agenda, but from within the marijuana activist movement itself, with Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery weighing in as a strong donator to the campaign.
Hugô St-Onge was thankful for the time and energy contributed to the party during the election, and optimistic about the future. "A lot of our candidates learned what it takes to run," he said. "There are more strong Bloc Pot supporters than before, and one day soon, on va les planter!"