Joseph Molitor thought his legal troubles were over.
He was acquitted of drug charges that were filed in 2019, after authorities mistaken the legal cannabis flower he sells for marijuana, freeing a former Old Forge man to resume operating a CBD store in northeastern Pennsylvania. He re-started the business in West Pittston, County Lucerne, online only, selling hemp and various cannabidiol products, or CBD, without fear of arrest — or so he thought.
On May 27, West Pittston police confiscated a $1,500 product after a police officer responding to an ambulance call at Molitor’s home noticed the purported smell of marijuana, which remains illegal in Pennsylvania except for verified medical users.
Molitor, 49, said he has lab tests that prove that all products, including hemp flowers and edible products, contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, making them legal. THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. He says the police refused to check the documents.
The case is still under investigation and no charges have been brought. Molitor said the detention caused him financial difficulties.
“They took $1,500 worth of product and I’m sure I’ll never get it back,” he said. “This is not a hobby. This is my livelihood.”
Lawyers specializing in cannabis law said the Molitor case illustrates the dilemma law enforcement and cannabis sellers have faced since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized cannabis.
The problem is the look and smell of cannabis like marijuana. The only definitive way to tell them apart is to test your THC level. Marijuana level 0.5% or higher.
There are no readily available tests that give immediate results, anyway, said attorney William Rourke of Lansdale, chair of the Medical Marijuana and Cannabis Law Commission. This led to false accusations being made to some people.
“The law is evolving…However, there is still a great deal of confusion about this,” Roark said. “Honestly, I think it is the science that needs to catch up… How can we decide on a relatively quick basis whether or not this product is legal?”
Locally, Molitor is one of three people charged in cannabis-related cases. He was arrested after a Scranton postal employee thought they smelled marijuana coming from a package containing a Molitor cannabis flower mailed to a customer. Shipments were dropped after subsequent testing showed the THC level was 0.34%. While the level was above the limit, it was within the margin of error for the test method.
The other case was filed in Wyoming County Court against Hunter Smetana and Colby Kluck, owners of 3Buds LLC, a hemp and CBD dispensary with several locations including Scranton, after a police officer in Tunkhanok found alleged marijuana – which Smetana and Clock claimed was hemp – while Traffic stopped in March 2020. A trial of that case is scheduled for September.
Most of the cannabis-related arrests occurred in the early days after the ranch law was passed, said Attorney Patrick Nightingale, director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Marijuana Law Reform Organization. They have since calmed down as the authorities have become more familiar with the act.
“Law enforcement seems to understand, yes, there are legal products that are just like marijuana and that is something they have to deal with,” Nightingale said.
The latest Molitor case started after he called an ambulance for his wife. An officer obtained a search warrant after he said he smelled marijuana and saw objects normally used to package medicine. Police confiscated 19 items that were sent to the state police laboratory for testing.
“Just the idea that we’re going to take something that we’re not sure if it’s legal, we’re going to take it and test it and then maybe give it back to you, which to me is not a good way to go forward with that kind of investigation,” Nightingale said.
West Pittston Police Chief Michael Turner, who was among the officers who carried out the arrest warrant, defended the department’s handling of the case, saying he was obligated to investigate.
“At the end of the day, my job is to make sure he abides by all the laws,” Turner said. “We have to make sure our communities are safe.”
Molitor said his business is no different than any other company that sells CBD-infused products, which are readily available at many retail outlets, including many convenience stores. It is suspected that he was targeted because he worked from home.
Molitor said he understood that the police simply couldn’t take his word for it. He said they were obligated to evaluate the evidence before seizing his product and refused to do so.
“I don’t know where the connection was lost, but I’m sick and tired of running a legal business and doing this thing,” he said. “How many times do you make the same mistake? You can’t keep violating people’s rights.”