June 5, 2019

Grandmother Sues Disney After Arrest for CBD Possession

A 69-year-old great-grandmother was arrested at Disney World for possession of “illegal narcotics believed to be THC oil” when she entered the amusement park with a bottle of CBD in her purse. Now she’s suing, and the incident is shining a spotlight on confusing CBD and cannabis laws.

Hester Jordan Burkhalter visited Orlando from North Carolina in April — a trip she had planned for two years. Expecting to walk a lot at the “magic kingdom,” she brought the CBD oil to treat her severe arthritis pain. CBD is rapidly becoming a popular treatment for people who suffer from pain. The hemp-based cannabinoid was recommended by her doctor.

“I have really bad arthritis in my legs, in my arms and in my shoulder,” she told Orlando’s Fox 35 News. “I use [CBD] for the pain because it helps.” Burkhalter even had a note from the doctor in her possession when an off-duty Orange County deputy working security for Disney arrested her.

After testing the oil twice, the deputy handcuffed Burkhalter and took her to jail, where she spent 12 hours before being released. The charges were eventually dropped after public outcry, but the sheriff’s office continues to defend its enforcement action.

“This was a lawful arrest, as possession of CBD oil is currently a felony under Florida State Statute and Deputies are responsible for enforcing Florida law and Orange County ordinances,” the office said in a statement. “Although CBD oil is illegal without a prescription, our top drug enforcement priority and focus at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office is to get deadly drugs, like heroin and fentanyl, off the streets of our community.”

Unfortunately for the local authorities, the story has gotten a lot of attention, and police have largely been portrayed as the villains in the press. CBD is popular with almost every demographic group in the country, and criticism has come from all directions.

Meanwhile, Burkhalter is justifiably upset. Her Florida attorney Ben Crump told the Orlando Sentinel that he plans to sue both Disney and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for illegal detainment, false imprisonment, defamation of character, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of Burkhalter’s civil rights.

The vacationing grandmother is hardly the only person in Florida using (and carrying) cannabidiol. According to Fox 35 News, CBD is being sold openly throughout the state — and nobody’s getting arrested for it. Florida attorney Jennifer Synnamon told the TV station that technically felonies are being committed daily across the state, as retailers unknowingly violate Florida law by selling the cannabis derivative.

To be fair, the situation can’t be blamed entirely on the cops working the Disney gate. Confusion over the laws on CBD have created a legal no-man’s-land for users of the non-psychoactive drug and law enforcement agencies.

Congress legalized hemp-based CBD at the federal level in last year’s Farm Bill. But laws punishing sale and possession of the substance are still enforced in some states. Even cannabis haven California has cracked down on some CBD products.

Further, many state CBD laws haven’t been updated as public opinion on cannabis has changed — even while penalties for possession of marijuana flower have been relaxed. Florida, for example, has reduced the charge for marijuana possession of less than 20 grams to a misdemeanor. But CBD possession — in any amount — remains on the books as a felony.

“Today in Orlando, we were able to go into the store and buy CBD,” Ben Crump told a news conference. “It’s all over Orlando. It’s all over Florida.”

But it’s still illegal.

Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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