Bloc Pot Leader Hugo St-Onge outlines party's proposals for Oct. 1 election

Bloc Pot leader Hugo St-Onge poses near his home in Montreal, Monday, September 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL - The head of the Bloc Pot, which is fielding several dozen candidates in the Quebec election, is slamming Ottawa's plan to legalize the use of cannabis in a month's time.

Hugo St-Onge, 44, says the federal legislation will mean more infractions and more penalties — the exact opposite of the liberalization his party is proposing as it campaigns for the Oct. 1 election.

Under the legislation, cannabis is strictly regulated and it will be against the Criminal Code to sell cannabis to youth.

St-Onge said he had hoped cannabis would have been taken out of the code to put an end to the stigmatization of users.

"We are looking to be equal citizens," he said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. "We should never be treated like criminals or drug addicts."

St-Onge added that Quebecers have been ostracized because they were not involved in drawing up the federal bill.

He noted the province also has legislation with its own penalties and fines.

"So, we're falling into a system where people will be penalized twice," he added.

Under Ottawa's plan, cannabis or cannabis oil must be bought from a provincially regulated retailer.

Quebec will sell cannabis though government-run stores when it officially becomes legal Oct. 17.

Two big Canadian producers, Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis, have been licensed as suppliers.

"What we were hoping for was . . .not being locked into a production monopoly," St-Onge said.

The father of two said the Bloc Pot believes there should be a "flourishing local market — an open market with several producers and resellers — a bit like restaurants and coffee shops."

St-Onge also claims there is very little access to medical cannabis in Quebec.

"We should make it much easier for people to try cannabis — a substance which is less dangerous most of the time — for illnesses," he said.

"We should favour the natural and holistic approach to medicine."

Another party proposal favours the agricultural development of cannabis as a way to promote regional economic development — "so that farmers could increase their financial gains."

St-Onge, an accountant and historian, wants the Quebec government to invest in what he calls the development of cannabis transformation centres.

He suggested the paper-producing region in central Quebec could provide rolling paper while cannabis seeds could be transformed in Sherbrooke into flour to be used for cookies for kids — "cookies with a lot of protein which can accompany a glass of milk."

Patrice Juneau, a spokesman for Quebec's main farmers' group, says at one point farmers were interested in the emerging cannabis market.

But he noted that Quebecers are not allowed to grow marijuana at home and there is no market left for farmers to invest in because the government-run Societe quebecoise du cannabis has found its suppliers.

"The instant the Quebec government decided people could not have marijuana plants at home, farmers essentially lost interest," he said in an interview.

St-Onge said the Bloc Pot, which was founded in September 1998 and has never elected anyone to the Quebec legislature, has 40 candidates in the election.

He said they are running mainly in the Montreal region and on its south shore, although there are also candidates in the Quebec City area and in other areas scattered around the province.

Quebec's national assembly has 125 seats.

St-Onge is trying to get elected in the Montreal riding of Laurier-Dorion where he said he usually gets about 300 votes. It will be his second attempt there.

He also ran unsuccessfully in another Montreal riding.

"The Bloc Pot is not looking to get elected," St-Onge said. "If we need to get elected to put an end to prohibition, we will do it, but it's not our first goal.

"Our first goal is to get awareness of our position about the cannabis situation in society."