North Carolina lawmakers want farmers to grow more hemp.

Senate Bill 315, the North Carolina Farm Bill of 2019, passed the Senate June 17 by a 31-14 vote. S.B. 315 officially authorizes and regulates statewide hemp farming, among other things.

That’s a big deal for agriculture across the U.S., experts say.

The federal government in 2018 removed hemp from its Controlled Substances Act — effectively legalizing the non-psychoactive cannabis plant. There was a catch. States needed to adopt their own rules for regulating and licensing growers and manufacturers.

No rules exist, and North Carolina is poised to set an example for the rest of the country, said Geoffrey Lawrence, a senior researcher at the libertarian Reason Foundation. Lawrence, a former policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation, studies cannabis policy and is a consultant on the topic to lawmakers around the country.

S.B. 315 expands a North Carolina pilot program by modifying the North Carolina Hemp Commission to become a regulatory body. The bill sets guidelines for licensing, and defines criminal and civil penalties for people who break the law. It also requires retailers to get a license before selling cannabinoid (CBD) products — including oils, lotions, and edibles.

Nobody is trying to legalize marijuana, the psychoactive cannabis plant with high THC levels, said Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, the bill’s primary sponsor. Hemp has multiple uses that stretch beyond CBD oil. It’s used in paper, rope, and cloth.

“Agriculture and our hardworking farmers have always been the driving force of North Carolina’s economy and this ensures that will continue to be the case in the future,” said Jackson in a press release after the floor vote. “Hemp production is a potential boom industry and the Farm Act of 2019 gives North Carolina the opportunity to be a pioneer in that industry.”

S.B. 315 establishes a task force of law enforcers and regulators who will meet quarterly to work out policing concerns. It’s impossible to tell the difference between legal hemp and illegal marijuana without testing for accurate THC levels. Officers don’t have the technology to do so during routine roadside stops.

S.B. 315 is scheduled for discussion in the House Agriculture Committee June 19.