BY ROBERT TOMKAVAGE
A store specializing in controversial, but legal, mood-altering hemp products will soon open in downtown Scranton.
3BUDS, a public cannabis dispensary that will not require a medical marijuana card to purchase items, will sell Delta-8 THC vapes, edibles, capsules and tinctures in the shop at 150 Adams Ave. starting later this month.
Delta-8 THC, which is a product of hemp, differs from Delta-9 THC, which is the variety sold at state-controlled dispensaries and requires a medical marijuana card to purchase. Typical marijuana has high levels of the psychoactive plant chemical Delta-9 THC, while hemp has only trace amounts of THC.
3BUDS opened another public cannabis dispensary in Wyoming, Luzerne County, in November, and another firm, Deep Six CBD, opened a store at the Viewmont Mall last February. Deep Six began selling Delta-8 THC products, including cartridges, flowers and edibles, about three months ago, said store manager Darienne Curtis.
“It’s kind of hard to keep them in the store right now,” she said.
With popularity growing, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said it is reviewing the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 which outlines regulatory controls over marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols and permits the sale of Delta-8 THC.
To meet the Agricultural Improvement Act’s definition of hemp — and qualify for the exception in the definition of marijuana — a cannabis-derived product must contain 0.3% or less of Delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis, according to the DEA..
The DEA is withholding comment on the legality of Delta-8 until the review is over.
“We are in the process of reviewing thousands of comments and do not speculate on what could happen as a result,” said Amanda Purdum, diversion outreach coordinator for the DEA.
3BUDS is co-owned by three friends from the Wyoming Valley — Colby Kluk, Hunter Smetana and Theodore Lasher. They began selling premium hemp products online about two years ago, and decided to expand into a brick-and-mortar retail store.
“We’ve had overwhelming customer support,” Kluk said. “When we were first considering opening retail storefronts, we were looking in the Wilkes-Barre area on the square. The city presence and the fact that we bring an upscale cannabis experience to people is essentially what drew us to Scranton.”
Such products are in demand nationwide.
Erica Stark, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based National Hemp Association and the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, noticed Delta-8 THC continues to grow in popularity.
“I’ve started to see it really pick up a lot in the last six to nine months,” she said. “I can’t speak from personal knowledge, but from what I’ve heard it produces a more mellow high without the anxiety that can be associated with Delta-9 THC and can help with sleep and nausea. It’s relatively new, but there seems to be some promising science behind it.”
Even though Delta-8 THC is legal, she cautioned it may cause impairment in some people.
“I think it’s important to know it’s possible to get intoxicated from it,” Stark said.
A disclaimer on the 3BUDS website also states the owners don’t guarantee anyone who uses the products will be able to pass a drug test.
While the Delta-8 THC products garner the most attention, Kluk said another top seller is the hemp flower.
“Everybody likes to come in, and experience and see all the different strains we offer,” he said. “They also love coming in to get the knowledge. We’re not here, necessarily, just to sell people things. We’re here to help them and answer their questions.”
Kluk stressed the company only sells organically-grown hemp and has worked with farms from Tunkhannock to Oregon.
“We’re farm to table. … That’s actually how we started this business,” he said. “The farms had hemp they didn’t know what to do with, so we worked closely with them to come up with a solution that benefited everyone.”
Lackawanna County District Attorney Mark Powell noted the similarities between hemp and marijuana create challenges for law enforcement.
Even though hemp containing 0.3% or less of THC is legal by both federal and state law, it looks identical to marijuana, he said.
“It’s not a gray area, it’s defined by the percentage,” Powell said. “The police can often proceed with an arrest based on all of the evidence. Just because it hinges on a lab report doesn’t necessarily make it an improper arrest.”
Scranton attorney Curt Parkins has filed federal lawsuits against police in two cases claiming false arrest.
In the first case, Joseph Molitor, owner of the CBD Shop of Northeast Pennsylvania, was arrested in June 2019, after Scranton postal inspectors flagged hemp flower he mailed to several customers as marijuana. The Lackawanna County district attorney’s office dropped all charges against Molitor last year, after it conducted further testing that showed the THC level was 0.34%, according to a motion to dismiss the charges. While the level was over the limit, it was within the margin of error for the testing method, so prosecutors opted not to pursue the case.
In the second case, Parkins sued Tunkhannock Police in June in connection with the arrest of two of the owners of 3BUDS, Smetana and Kluk, both of West Wyoming. The criminal and civil cases are both still pending.
Powell said his office would investigate complaints, but won’t focus on lawful stores.
“It’s not our position to impede with their ability to operate a legal business,” Powell said.
Bob Durkin, president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, feels the dispensary may be part of a wave of new businesses in the region.
“I believe we’re on the precipice of seeing a whole different realm of retail downtown and across Lackawanna County,” he said.
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