Stop Arresting Grandmothers for CBD

Orange County Sheriff's Office

The cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) is beneficial for treating everything from addiction to arthritis, but cops are incarcerating people over it in the name of public safety. Some recent examples:

  • Last month, 69-year-old grandmother Hester Jordan Burkhalter was arrested at Disney World after guards found a vial of CBD oil in her purse for arthritis. She even had a doctor’s note.
  • Last year, 71-year-old grandmother Lena Bartula was arrested at the Dallas airport for possession of a vial of CBD oil she uses to treat her sciatica pain. She missed her flight after spending 22 hours in jail.
  • And in 2017, 31-year-old Robert Faulkner was arrested in Ohio after police found a small vial of CBD oil he uses to treat his anxiety during a DUI arrest.

All three were charged with felonies despite having purchased their CBD over the counter in retail shops.

And all three saw their charges either dropped or reduced to a misdemeanor.

Now Burkhalter is considering suing, but her attorney, Ben Crump, is first demanding the Orange County Sheriff's Office release the full video of her arrest. Crump believes the deputies were "hell-bent on putting Ms. Burkhalter in jail."

He released the following statement this past Friday.

So far, we have only seen edited police bodycam footage from the day Hester Burkhalter was arrested at Disney World, and we have requested the full, unedited bodycam video to review. However, based on the limited portion of the transcript we've seen, we are shocked to learn that the officers tested Burkhalter's CBD oil twice, apparently to get to the end result they wanted. And, further, that the deputy acknowledged that the test kit was faulty and the results could not be relied upon. This officer seemed to be hell-bent on putting Ms. Burkhalter in jail. Even when faced with evidence there was no THC in the product, they re-tested and then detained her for more than 12 hours.

The video that deputies released shows them placing Burkhalter in the back of a patrol car in handcuffs as she pleaded with them to give her air because she was unable to breathe. She says the air conditioner was off.

The problem is that not only is this zero-tolerance attitude absurd, but also the instruments police use to test products for cannabis do not differentiate between CBD and THC, according to an investigation by NBC Washington.

That is what Bartula told NBC happened when she was arrested last September 16 in Texas. “After they ran a computer test on it, they told me it was a controlled substance not allowed on federal property,” she said. “I was arrested, put in handcuffs, and taken to the airport jail, where I spent the night in a freezing cell with a pad on the concrete floor and a paper-thin piece of plastic for a blanket.”

Bartula spent more than $3,500 to defend herself before a grand jury declined to indict her in December.

“This episode was such a waste of time, energy, and taxpayer money,” she said. “It's time to legalize medical cannabis, in light of the addictive drugs produced and sold by Big Pharma, with atrocious price tags and potentially devastating side effects.”

Faulkner’s case was equally egregious. A grand jury indicted him on two charges of aggravated possession of drugs in June 2018, both felonies of the fifth degree. "I had bought it a week before in a head shop in Columbus," Faulkner told local media.

After Faulkner spent 12 hours in jail, a judge ended up reducing the charges from felonies to misdemeanors in March 2019, according to the Mansfield News Journal.

“The court believes that the charges against the defendant are minor misdemeanors and not fifth-degree felonies,” Richland County Common Pleas Judge Brent Robinson wrote in his two-page ruling.

Charges were dropped against Buckhalter after her story went viral.

Last year, the federal government removed CBD as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the 2018 Farm Bill. It legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp, which includes CBD but only trace amounts of THC. Yet the feds still consider any CBD containing more than 0.3 percent THC a controlled substance.

However, studies have proven the most effective CBD products contain a lesser ratio of THC because the two compounds work synergistically. So there’s a good chance most CBD products have more than the 0.3 percent of THC, but that does not mean people will get high because CBD counteracts those effects.

The real problem regarding CBD is not the products that contain the cannabinoids, but false claims. This is why Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is considering sending cease-and-desist letters to businesses selling CBD over the counter. At present, there are no government regulations ensuring the products contain what they claim.

Says Bartula, the grandmother arrested in Dallas: "We have come to a point where we must allow natural, alternative, and plant-based wellness to become more mainstream, and that's not easy with the pharma lobbyists we have controlling the system.”

Asked if it plans to train deputies in how to handle future CBD cases, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said it cannot comment because of pending litigation.

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Carlos Miller is a Miami multimedia journalist who runs Photography Is Not a Crime, an award-winning national news site about First Amendment issues and police abuse.
Contact: Carlos Miller