Pubdate: Thu, 08 Mar 2018
Source: Intelligencer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018, The Belleville Intelligencer
Author: Luke Hendry
Page: A2


Health units and municipalities facing more costs, medical officer

The Quinte region's board of health is asking Ontario for a share of
the coming tax revenue from cannabis sales in order to fight expected
health impacts.

"We want some of the tax money because there's going to be costs to
public health and to municipalities," said Dr. Ian Gemmill, the acting
medical officer of health for Hastings and Prince Edward Counties.

Revenue from the taxation of legal cannabis sales, which are to begin
in July, is to be split with provinces and territories, with the
federal government retaining 25 per cent to a maximum federal revenue
of $ 100 million.

"As more details become known, Ontario municipalities are anticipating
that the legalization of cannabis will increase the costs of policing,
bylaw enforcement, public health and other services," health unit
program manager Roberto Almeida wrote in a briefing note for the
Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Board of Health.

The board passed a motion to ask provincial politicians to dedicate a
portion of the cannabis excise tax revenue from the federal government
to public health agencies.

"I think all of us in public health agree that nobody should go to
jail or have a criminal record because of the possession of this drug.
But it is very foolish to assume that cannabis is harmless from a
health point of view," Gemmill told reporters Wednesday in Belleville.

"Commercialization concerns me. I think people should not be making
money off other people's potentially ill health, and that's going to
happen from the use of cannabis.

"It kind of disturbs me that both businesses and tax collectors seem
to be salivating at the prospect of getting this tax money.

"There are a lot of public health concerns about cannabis.

He said widespread public education is needed to limit the health
effects and other potential harm, such as traffic collisions,
resulting from cannabis use.

"They are real and they're going to happen and we want to do
everything we can to lessen that effect."

Gemmill said there appears to be double standards involving the

"We've spent decades trying to keep people from smoking tobacco. All
of sudden we're saying it's OK to smoke cannabis. It doesn't make any

Program manager Almeida's briefing note added health units "are also
primed to prevent the renormalization of smoking tobacco" resulting
from cannabis legalization.

"We spent years and years trying to reduce the deaths on the highways
that are associated with drinking and driving and now we've got this
to deal with," Gemmill added.

He said there are also fears about the drug's potential effects upon
developing minds.

"We have some concerns that some youngsters may end up with some
psychological concerns," said Gemmill, adding cannabis is among the
drugs which "may precipitate" a psychological "event."

But legalization is scheduled to occur, he said, and public health
officials want to be able to ensure citizens known the risks. That
could include hiring more health educators, said Gemmill.

"This is clearly our responsibility and to be able to do it in the era
of a frozen budget we're going to need to have some additional resources."

He estimated a health educator could earn $ 50,000 to $ 75,000 per
year. Ontario has 36 health units, he noted, and one more educator per
unit may not be enough in more populated areas.

"We're talking about having enough people in place to make a
difference so that people who decide to use marijuana understand all
the facts and know what the health risks are before they go down that

The health unit's medical resident, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, agreed.

Quoting information he received in a recent Quinte Health Care talk on
the subject by Dr. Tracy Cupido, Oglaza said "there's very little
evidence of benefit" of cannabis use.

"There's clear evidence of side effects and harms associated with the
use of cannabis," Oglaza said.

"We have to be really careful when this is introduced both for medical
use and recreational use so the harms don't outweigh the benefits."
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