In March, the North Carolina House of Representatives filed legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

The proposal, House Bill 401, lays foundations for the Medical Cannabis Act, aimed at protecting registered patients with “debilitating medical conditions, and their physicians and caregivers, from arrest and prosecution.” The act, which references research that reports beneficial qualities of cannabis, would also allow use of medical marijuana “in a regulated system for alleviating symptoms caused by debilitating medical conditions and their medical treatments.”

According to a study from the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University in Pueblo County, which examined the economic and social effects of cannabis legalization in Pueblo County, the marijuana industry can positively contribute to, for example, reducing income inequality.

“Educational achievement in Pueblo still lags behind the rest of Colorado. To address that deficit, Pueblo County has instituted what appears to be the world’s first cannabis tax-funded college scholarship program,” the study said.

The research found that while the number of homeless army veterans has been decreasing across the U.S., it has been increasing in Colorado, which “may in part be due to veterans who are migrating to obtain legal cannabis (e.g. for treatment for PTSD).”

“Cannabis migrants have a real but unknown impact on homeless statistics in Pueblo, including those known as cannabis refugees (who are individuals who cross state lines to acquire cannabis to medically treat their own or family member’s illnesses),” the study said. “Federal prohibitions may be a key factor that results in homeless cannabis refugees.”

But William Vizuete, a professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has found that the growing process might carry potential public health risks. He went to Colorado to study how emissions from marijuana plants affect air quality.

“When you have these gases coming from the plants, they can mix with car emissions, for example, or other man-made emissions. There’s the possibility that they can mix together, react and form particles: ozone, smog and visibility issues,” Vizuete said. “That process is well known, but what isn’t known is if there are enough gases coming from these plants such that it can have an impact on air quality.”

Vizuete and his team are using information such as location and stage of growth to work out the amount of emissions coming from marijuana production. They are trying to understand the potential adverse effects of marijuana growing on urban and rural areas before North Carolina legalizes it. While their research has produced some new insights, Vizuete said that they may not have enough data to make decisive conclusions.

HB 401 is now under review by the General Assembly’s Committee on Health in North Carolina. If passed, it will move on to the Judiciary, Finance and Rules Committee.

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