The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has made an appeal for financial aid from the city to combat cannabis use among youth.
A report from the health unit, requesting $25,900 over two years, first landed on council’s agenda on May 29.
At that meeting, city staff noted Orillia was already committed to using the bulk of provincial funding - received to deal with the fallout of the legalization of cannabis - to help implement its new bylaw banning smoking and vaping on property owned or leased by the city.
Shawn Crawford, the city’s manager of legislative services, noted the city has received about $81,000 from the province to date and said about $36,000 of that money has been earmarked by council to implement the new bylaw.
Crawford expects more money will be needed to carry out the new bylaw.
“Staff certainly recognizes that there’s value in the initiatives (the health unit is) proposing, but (there) are too many financial unknowns to support the request” for funding.
However, council delayed making a final decision on the matter until they could hear directly from health unit personnel.
Last week, Martin Kuhn, the health unit’s tobacco enforcement supervisor, and Rebecca Dupuis, its substance use and injury prevention manager, explained why it was important for Orillia to join other “upper tier” municipalities in supporting their initiative.
Barrie has already contributed more than $40,000 toward the effort, while the County of Simcoe has also committed funding.
“The health unit encourages a cautionary and a harm reduction approach to recreational adult cannabis with a focus on preventing youth access to cannabis and encourages a harm reduction approach for youth who use cannabis,” said Dupuis.
She said the goal is “to normalize the conversation about cannabis use ... but not the use of it.”
The funding would be used to help support seven initiatives, the duo explained. They are:
- Curious about Cannabis Campaign: The goal is to increase response to public inquiries and increase awareness of health harms;
- Campaign to be developed focusing on parents and youth allies. Goal is to increase awareness of health harms for youth and parenting strategies;
- Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. The goal is to compile local data and analysis to assist in planning;
- Surveillance of Hospital emergency room visits. The goal is to obtain accurate data and analysis of impact on emergency services for planning and strategy development;
- Health Connection and response to Request For Service applications with goal of increasing knowledge of residents and timely response to their needs;
- Enforcement and related education; goal is to increase compliance
- Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System data; the rationale is local data will assist in planning for multiple service areas. The data will “give us the pulse ... on the issues of concern and usage” to “assist in planning”, campaigns etc.
“The funds we’re asking for will help us meet the goals of having evidence-based response to cannabis, continue the engagement and enforcement and activities, continue to increase community and individual knowledge and awareness, and support and consult with community partners and municipalities,” said Dupuis.
They presented some statistics that underlined the need.
For example, they noted cannabis consumption has increased from about 13% of adults to about 20% in Ontario.
They also noted that usage among youths in Simcoe County is higher than the provincial average and that youth continue to be passengers in cars driven by a person who has consumed cannabis.
Councillors did not weigh in on the request for funding. However, several wanted the health unit to help municipalities champion an appeal to the province to include city streets in smoking/vaping bans such as the one recently created in Orillia.
“As you are aware, we have allocated a significant portion of funding that was coming to the City of Orillia for enforcement of the new bylaw,” said Coun. Ted Emond. ”I’m just wondering if anywhere along the line, the district heath unit have considered lobbying the province to change the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) that would enable us to control vaping, tobacco smoking and cannabis smoking on (our) streets.”
He said “one of the main complaints” he hears is from merchants and customers who decry the “offensiveness of walking the main street, seeing the residue of that and the aroma.”
He said it’s frustrating that cities can’t enforce the restriction due to the HTA deeming those streets provincial responsibility.
“That would be a major step to our ability to control” that, said Emond.
Kuhn conceded a municipality, at present, cannot enact a smoke-free ban on highways, roads and municipal boulevards.
Kuhn noted Coun. Ralph Cipolla, who sits on the health unit’s board, has raised this issue in the past, as has the City of Barrie.
However, “there has not been a formal request made by the health unit to the province at this time,” said Kuhn.
Cipolla said he has been working with Dr. Charles Gardner, the health unit’s medical officer of health, and Barrie politicians to urge them to join forces to take their case to the province.
“We want to lobby the province to allow us to legislate (the ban) on sidewalks,” said Cipolla. “I think it would be a win for all of us - a win for our children and our grandchildren.”
It’s not something that has been requested before, said Kuhn.
“For some reason, Simcoe County municipalities are extremely aggressive in their pursuit of smoke-free spaces,” noted Kuhn. “I wouldn’t be surprised, based on the work of Coun. Cipolla ... that we could be first out of the gate with a formal request to the province.”
Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke said he would be happy to write a formal letter making the request after consulting with Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
Council will vote on the health unit’s funding request at its next meeting July 18.