In a move that many have regarded as overly excessive, police arrested a 69 year old great-grandmother last April after Disney World security found CBD oil in her purse during a routine screening. Hester Burkhalter, a resident of North Carolina, was held for 12 hours and forced to pay $2000 in bond before being released; the charges were eventually dropped after prosecutors declined to pursue the case.
Burkhalter, who has never been arrested before, spoke about how she spent over two years saving for her Disney World trip, and that her doctor had recommended the CBD oil to ease the pain caused by arthritis in her shoulder, arms and legs. Unfortunately, an overzealous officer opted to ruin her vacation by choosing to make an example of her medication.
The CBD oil she was carrying had packaging which stated that it contained 0 mg of THC, but officers claimed that it had tested positive for the compound; this led to her being charged with possession of hashish, which is a felony in Florida. Federal law allows for full spectrum CBD oils to contain under 0.3% of THC.
While THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, they individually affect the brain very differently. THC is responsible for the psychotropic effects that marijuana is infamously associated with and long-term use can lead to dependency, whereas CBD is non-habit forming with almost no side effects; the World Health Organization (WHO) has given it a very high safety profile.
Some have commented that Burkhalter should have been more conscious about checking the rules regarding permissibility of her medication in other states, but that is an extremely weak argument in light of how inconsistent Florida authorities are regarding their application of the current laws. Presently, CBD exists in a legal grey area that has proven to be a frustration for retailers and consumers alike, as nobody is quite sure whether its production and sale are prohibited or not; a lot of this confusion is due to the fact that the laws are not enforced consistently. According to the Orange County Sheriff’s office, possession of CBD without a prescription in Florida is considered a felony, but apparently they are not interested in implementing this law against the many gas stations and convenience stores across the state who openly sell it.
It’s hard to deny the hypocrisy of arresting an arthritic great-grandmother for possessing a doctor recommended medication that is widely available for purchase over the counter in the state she was arrested in. Further adding to the travesty of Burkhalter’s detainment is the fact that possession of up to 19 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor in Florida, no matter what the natural THC content. This discrepancy in policy is so utterly ridiculous because it essentially means that possession of CBD oil with trace amounts of THC will result in a felony arrest but possessing 19 grams of high-level THC marijuana is punishable with a ticket.
Although 33 states have already passed bills allowing for the sale of medical or recreational marijuana, this doesn’t always correlate with the legalization of CBD itself, which has caused a lot of issues. As the federal legalization of cannabis becomes more inevitable, it seems logical that state authorities would spend their limited resources focusing on narcotics that are actually hurting people, like opioids. According to the WHO, in 2015 over 160,000 people worldwide died from opioid overdoses, and this rate continues to increase each year.
The Sheriff’s office maintains that the arrest was “lawful” in a statement that they provided to the media, and went on to say that, "possession of CBD oil is currently a felony under Florida State Statute and Deputies are responsible for enforcing Florida law and Orange County ordinances.” It would seem that these laws only apply to arthritic grandmothers, not to the many stores through Florida that openly advertise and sell CBD products. Instead of excusing the officers for just “doing their job”, people should be asking themselves why these absurd restrictions on CBD were enacted in the first place, and what steps can be taken in order to prevent this kind of farce from happening again.
Burkhalter is currently planning to sue both Walt Disney World as well as the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who’s legal counsel had sent out an email to the department last month stating, “Because of the confusion surrounding CBD, deputies are encouraged to consult on-call Narcotics or Legal prior to effectuating an arrest or seizing CBD.” Obviously, the department was aware that the lack of clarity regarding the legality of CBD was causing issues; hopefully Burkhalter will triumph over her injustice when she has her day in court.