California makes $41 million available to organizations for youth substance use prevention


Hannah Saunders


Last month, California’s Department of Health Care Services announced the availability of over $41 million in funding available to community-based and tribal organizations to widen youth substance use prevention services. Organizations have until August 28th to submit applications of up to $1 million to implement the Elevate Youth Program

The goal of the Elevate Youth Program is to invest in youth leadership and activism for youth of color and 2S/LGBTQ+ individuals ages 12 to 26 who are living in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. The program is funded through Prop. 64, known as the California Cannabis Tax Fund. 


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“We know that the war on drugs intentionally targeted communities of color—Black, African American, Hispanic, LatinX, as well as Indigenous and Native,” Palvinder Kaur, senior program officer at Elevate Youth California, said during a virtual forum. 

A report from the University of California, Davis titled, “When the Smoke Clears,” analyzes racial disparities of marijuana-related arrests in the state from 1996 to 2016 based on information taken from California’s Department of Justice Criminal Offender Record Information. 

Although the number of marijuana-related arrests and types of charges have varied over time, racial disparities continue to exist: Black individuals are about four times more likely to be arrested or charged with cannabis-related crimes when compared to the white population. 

The report found that the highest arrest rates take place in counties that produce cannabis, like Mendocino County—where in 2016, the arrest rate of Black individuals was about 4,500 per 100,000 population. 

Rates of drug use have not declined since the launch of the war on drugs in 1971, which to this day continues to disproportionately impact communities of color and individuals living in poverty. Individuals arrested because of substance use are incarcerated without providing adequate therapies or treatment for substance use disorder, which neglects to address the issue at the core.

Arrests can lead to charges and criminal records, which pop up during background checks when applying for employment and housing, creating additional barriers and instability. BIPOC youth in particular are not immune to the current effects of the war on drugs, or the trickling effects the war has had on previous generations. 

“The key component of this program is that young people ages 12 to 26 are the leaders of these programs. They’re the ones who are leading the efforts to engage in policy and systems change.”

— Kaur

The Elevate Youth program is currently on round five of its standard track funding category, which will last 36 months, and will focus on policy, and system and environmental changes through youth activism, mentorship, and peer-led support. The request for application for the capacity building track is set to launch in the new year.

Kaur said it’s crucial that staff, consultants, and adult mentors at applying organizations reflect the community they are serving, and have a strong understanding of what youth and young adults are experiencing. She encouraged those interested in applying to think about program design with youth in mind, and ways for youth to become leaders in the program. 

“In the program, we’ve built some ways in which organizations are able to continue to center youth voices, and one of the ways we do this is we require a minimum of one youth listening session each year of the program.”

— Kaur 

Organizations receiving funds must implement at least three youth listening sessions throughout the three-year contract period, and according to Kaur, some organizations in the past have implemented more than one session annually. 

“It’s really an opportunity to be able to hear from young people— youth and young adults who are in your program, or who are those who you might want to reach,” Kaur said. 

Additional activities that will be funded under this grant include direct services; policy, systems, and environmental changes; culturally rooted healing centered on youth activism that addresses policies and systems; and peer-led capacity building, training, and leadership development. 

In the previous round of standard track funding, the organization ‘ataaxum Pomkwaan, located in San Diego County, received $958,835 to improve health outcomes for Native American youth through advocacy programs and activities, Indigenous clubs, mentorship, and youth social justice workshops to address substance use prevention among youth. 

Arts for Healing and Justice Network also received $947,789 to increase the leadership skills of Black and LatinX youth impacted in LA County who have been impacted by the system. The Network conducted healing-informed arts education, leadership development, peer mentorship, and youth-led advocacy to empower youth to dismantle systems of oppression while reclaiming their narratives.

Improve Your Tomorrow was also a previous grant recipient, who used the $991,081 in funding to improve educational and health outcomes of young men of color attending Sacramento community colleges through mentorship, leadership development, and culturally responsive wraparound support to prepare for policy internships in the capitol. 

For the current round, up to 85 percent of funding will be set aside to support urban programs and organizations, while 15 percent will go towards rural programs and organizations. The state defines “rural” as a population density of 250 people or less per square mile, with no incorporated area greater than 50,000 individuals. 

The state will review applications during August and September, and will announce grant awardees around October. The state plans to issue the initial grant funding on Nov. 16th.