Cannabis education funding hasn’t trickled down to Ottawa Public Health

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has spent $20,000 on campaigns to counter the negative health effects of cannabis legalization, particularly on youth — a drop in the bucket compared to other cities.

The federal government promised millions in education funding to go along with legalization, with commitments worth $4.1M to organizations in the city of Toronto.

None of that federal money has made its way to Ottawa, however.

“We will be exploring provincial and federal funding opportunities,” wrote OPH spokesperson Robyn Muzik in an email.

“We will be submitting our public health budget to the city and province in the new year,”

Investments in “public health promotion and prevention” tops the priorities for Ottawa Public Health in its plan to reduce harms associated with cannabis use.

“The harms are particularly evident when cannabis is used at a young age, frequently or while engaging in risky behaviours such as driving impaired”, it noted in its 2018 report.

Federal fund

Muzik said one of the places OPH will be looking for a handout is the federal government’s $62.5 million fund dedicated to local initiatives.

The money, proposed in last year’s federal budget, will support local community organizations and Indigenous groups with “an emphasis on new ways to engage with Canadians, especially youth and young adults.”

But it has so far only handed out about $6 million.

While none directly benefit Ottawa organizations, two could benefit residents, including:

  • “Weed out the Risk” program, a national high school education program which focuses on road safety, worth $3 million over four years and run by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
  • “Filling the Toolbox: Equipping Educators to Address Cannabis Use in a School Setting” developed by the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association to help teachers discuss cannabis with students.

Some investment in education is being made on the provincial level, particularly through the school curriculum.

Denver’s differences

The OPH investment pales compared to the $150,000 spent by Denver Public Health in the first year of legalization in the state of Colorado.

Another $500,000 in city tax revenue from marijuana was spent that same year on education programs to counter the negative impacts of marijuana.

This year, Denver has set aside more than $3.6M for education programs, funded through marijuana tax revenue.

Last year, the rate of pot consumption among 12 to 17 year olds dropped in the state to its lowest level in a decade.

Though Ottawa and Denver are similar in size, Denver has the advantage of getting a piece of the pot revenue pie to fund enforcement, regulation and education, including a dedicated 3.5 per cent Denver sales tax on cannabis along with other tax contributions from the state.

The City of Ottawa must apply for funding to various levels of government.

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