North Carolina farmers who got into the cannabis business in recent years hoped they’d be in a prime position to capitalize on the state’s eventual legalization of cannabis. But those hopes are fading, even with a bill to legalize medicinal cannabis pending in the state’s General Assembly.

The number of farmers licensed to grow cannabis’ nonintoxicating cousin, hemp, is now one-quarter of what it was in 2020. The medical cannabis bill, languishing in the House after clearing the state Senate with bipartisan support, is a narrow one, providing opportunities for just 10 suppliers and requiring experience that, by definition, no in-state operation can have.

“It’s really going to be limiting as far as the local economy goes,” said Andrew Wheeler, the owner of Arrowhead Hemp Farms in Asheville. “I’d like it to be different, but I don’t hold my breath when it comes to North Carolina.”

Bill sponsors say the measure is purposefully restrictive to ease conservative lawmakers’ concerns that Senate Bill 711 is a gateway to full adult-use legalization. Even with that safeguard, the bill may not pass at all. House Republican leadership says there’s no appetite to take it up this year.

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