Hemp legalization’s impact on Uptown Athens

A look at the 2018 Farm Bill’s effects on Athens businesses.

ATHENS, Ohio — Over the past few years, a new industry has reshaped Uptown Athens, with new storefronts springing up offering hemp-derived THC and/or CBD products. Existing businesses have also begun offering the newly legalized products.

The businesses — mostly located within a few blocks from one another on or near Court Street — sell a range of THC and/or CBD products. The products were made possible by the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 federal farm bill. 

The bill legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products and distinguished hemp from marijuana. It defines hemp as a cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% delta-9 THC by dry weight. Delta-9 THC is the same psychoactive compound that produces the high associated with marijuana use.


The 2018 farm bill removed hemp from regulation as a controlled substance and classified it as an agricultural commodity, allowing farmers to grow and harvest it legally. This opened the door for the production and sale of CBD products, low-THC delta-9 products and products containing delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC, also sold locally.

Delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC are different compounds with similar psychoactive properties, which may be derived from hemp. A federal appeals court held in 2022 that the farm bill’s definition of hemp legalized the production and sale of delta-8 THC products under federal law, though each state has regulated it differently. It is currently fully legal in Ohio with little regulatory oversight, provided that it’s derived from hemp plants and not cannabis medicine plants.

Some experts have expressed concern around the lack of regulation of delta-8 and similar products, citing product contamination and other regulatory issues.

“A bar alternative”

One of the more recent additions to Uptown is Buddy’s Lounge, which opened on Feb. 17 and distinguishes itself from the competition by offering lounge space and some hemp products that can be consumed on-site.

Buddy’s Lounge, at 10 S Court St., has two other previous locations. Both are called Buddy’s Bud Company and are also located in college towns: Morgantown, West Virginia (home of West Virginia University) and Indiana, Pennsylvania (home of Indiana University of Pennsylvania). Buddy’s owner Nicholas Marie, 29, said the stores mostly cater to students, though he has been seeing more locals in the Athens shop.

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Each of the three stores, the first of which launched in August 2021, offer the same product line, feature the same artwork and offer space for customers to sit, play games and enjoy products. On-site consumption is limited to edible and drinkable products, as smoking is not allowed inside the Athens location.

“My whole thing with starting these has been being a bar alternative,” Marie said. “Everybody has those nights where they’re like, ‘I want to go out, and I want to do something,’ but I don’t feel like having music blasted in my ears… This is going to assist you in relaxation and a nice elation while you can hang out and do something.”

Marie said he works to ensure a safe product line by visiting the farms from which he sources products and ensuring that products are lab-tested. Marie maintains records of testing on the products he sources for customer reference at his store. 

Although the Athens location is smaller than Marie’s other stores, he said he is open to expanding his business. He said he hopes to position his business to offer legal, recreational marijuana products should recreational marijuana be legalized in Ohio. Recreational marijuana may appear as an issue on the November 2023 election ballot.

Marie also owns an electricity company based in Texas, he said.

Hemp business is booming

Three other shops carrying hemp-derived products have opened in Uptown Athens since 2021: Puff for Tobacco at 42 S. Court St., Royal Convenience and Tobacco at 11 W. State St. and Athens Smoke at 12 E. Carpenter St. Puff for Tobacco and Royal Convenience and Tobacco carry hemp-derived products such as pre-rolled cigarettes and CBD gummies.

Athens Smoke carries hemp-derived delta-8 products. Manager Addy N. said the delta-8 products sell on par with the other main products the store offers.

Hemp products have also boosted margins at existing Athens businesses. Import House, at 68 N. Court St., has a small selection of hemp-derived products, including edibles and tinctures. Manager Karen McGuire, who has worked at the business for three decades, said that the store added the hemp products shortly after the passage of the 2018 farm bill.

Import House carries disposable delta-8 devices but tries to emphasize more environmentally friendly products, McGuire explained. The hemp items aren’t a major portion of sales, but their popularity has increased over time. McGuire said she prefers to provide American-made products, and sources items from nearby states such as Kentucky and Michigan. Ohio legalized industrial hemp production in 2020.

A.J. Rose, a shift lead at Silver Serpent, 55 N. Court St., said the business’s hemp-derived products such as edibles and vapes are some of the top-selling items in the store. Rose estimated that the products bring in about $3,000 to $5,000 per week in retail sales. Like Import House, the store began carrying the products after the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Silver Serpent recently expanded into two other locations, on West State Street and West Union Street. Rose said hemp products have likely helped grow the business and facilitate its expansion. Nicotine products remain the store’s top-selling product, alongside alcohol, though Rose said the store’s hemp products continue to grow in variety and popularity. 

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