RALEIGH, N.C. — While marijuana farming is flourishing in some states that have legalized the drug, North Carolina is looking to its cannabis cousin as a cash crop of the future.

Lawmakers on Wednesday rolled out the annual Farm Act, and 10 pages of the 16-page proposal are dedicated to setting up the necessary infrastructure to capitalize on the federal government's loosening of restrictions on hemp production.

"Hemp production can be a new boom industry for North Carolina farmers and at a time when we really need it," bill sponsor Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, said during a news conference. "We need to act now to become a national leader."

Under a two-year pilot project allowed by the government, North Carolina's hemp production has skyrocketed, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. The state now has 634 licensed farmers growing hemp on about 8,000 acres and 3.4 million square feet of greenhouse space, up from 124 farmers and 2,200 acres and 242,000 square feet of greenhouse space last year, he said. There are also 413 licensed processors statewide, up almost tenfold from a year ago.

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