Woman Arrested for CBD Oil at Disney World Demands Apology
Arrest highlights disconnect between federal and state laws on CBD
By AP and Staff • Published May 14, 2019 • Updated on May 16, 2019 at 11:45 am
A 69-year-old great-grandmother is demanding an apology for her arrest at a Walt Disney World security checkpoint last month after a guard found CBD oil while searching her purse.
Hester Burkhalter has hired high-profile attorney Benjamin Crump, who represented Trayvon Martin’s family.
Crump said Tuesday that Disney World and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office “need to take responsibility for their actions” or he will file a lawsuit on the North Carolina woman’s behalf, alleging violations of her civil rights.
Burkhalter was arrested on April 15 and said she was detained for 15 hours over a bottle of CBD oil that her doctor in North Carolina recommended for arthritis. The oil was discovered when she put her purse on a table for inspection and tested positive for THC, according to an arrest report from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
“I was in shock,” Burkhalter told NBC News of her experience. “I don’t feel like I’ve done anything wrong at all.”
CBD oil, which is extracted from cannabis plants but doesn’t produce a high, has become a craze across the country since a 2018 federal law legalized industrial hemp.
NBC Miami has reported that the industry is expected to grow to $5.9 billion by the end of the year, up from $619 million in 2018, according to researchers with Brightfield Group, a CBD marketing research firm.
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But state laws vary with Florida in a special case of legal limbo. In the Sunshine State, CBD oil is, for now, only legal for sale with a prescription at certified Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers.
According to Burkhalter’s legal team, she provided a doctor’s note in response to her arrest and her doctor indicated the oil was legal in North Carolina.
Lawmakers in North Carolina, however, are in the process of trying to bring state laws in line with the 2018 federal law that removed hemp from a list of Schedule I drugs, said Jon Lanier, assistant general counsel with North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
He said he thought law enforcement in his state was generally aware of changes with the federal law.
“Largely where we are right now is that the regulations are catching up to the production,” Lanier said.
NBC has requested comment from Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for clarity on what out of state visitors who may have a doctor’s note or prescription should know.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has said in an emailed statement that Burkhalter’s arrest was lawful. Still, prosecutors dropped a drug charge against Burkhalter, saying it wasn’t suitable for prosecution.
A new law that passed Florida’s legislature this month would legalize CBD oil on July 1 and establish a framework for regulating the products. Florida’s new law, however, has not yet been signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. NBC has reached out for comment on whether and when DeSantis planned to sign the measure.
For now, Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warns on its website that “CBD products being sold in Florida are unregulated, untested, and without standards on what consumers are putting into their bodies.”
The NBC 6 Investigators team earlier this year purchased 35 CBD products from seven different companies and took the samples to an accredited testing facility. Twenty of the samples had less than half of the amount of CBD advertised on the label. Some samples had no CBD at all.
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesperson Franco Ripple said the department is not sending cease and desist letters to businesses that sell CBD products but should the state’s regulatory program go into effect “it will allow us to test those products for consumer safety.”
The FDA, meanwhile, is planning a public hearing on May 31 as it considers regulations for how cannabis-derived products.
Woman Files Lawsuit After 2019 CBD Oil Arrest at Disney World
ORLANDO, Fla. — Civil rights attorney Ben Crump has filed a civil lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company on behalf of Hester Burkhalter, a North Carolina grandmother who was arrested at Magic Kingdom in April 2019 after security found CBD oil in her purse.
What You Need To Know
- North Carolina woman arrested last year at Disney World for CBD oil
- Hester Burkhalter’s attorneys have filed lawsuit against Disney
- Burkhalter is being represented by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump
- RELATED: Woman in Disney CBD Oil Arrest: Body-Cam Video Proves Wrongful Arrest
According to Crump, Burkhalter had the “CBD oil per her doctor’s recommendation to treat her advance arthritis.”
Burkhalter was arrested and charged with possession of hashish. The charges were later dropped.
“Disney’s stated mission is to make everyone’s dreams come true. Instead, they turned a harmless grandmother’s expensive Disney vacation into a nightmare by treating her like a criminal with the full participation of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office,” Crump said in a statement Wednesday about the lawsuit. “We have given Disney and Orange County several chances to own their mistakes and make this right. The arrogance, complacency and lack of corporate responsibility demonstrated by these organizations demand correction and justice.”
Crump told Spectrum News in April 2019 they were seeking a public apology from Walt Disney World.
Body camera footage released by Orange County Sheriff’s Office at the time shows deputies meeting with Burkhalter after being stopped by security officers at a checkpoint in front of Magic Kingdom.
In the footage, an Orange County deputy is heard saying, “If it doesn’t test positive for THC, then she can have it back.” Deputies tested her oil with a marijuana test kit.
“This does not contain THC,” the deputy is heard saying on the body camera footage. “This is not criminal. It is not criminal to have that.”
Despite finding the oil to be legal, deputies tested it again.
This is when Burkhalter attorney Michelle Rayner-Goolsby said they showed their true intentions.
“At that point that it did not come back positive for THC, you needed to allow her to go back into the park and enjoy this trip with her family,” Rayner-Goolsby said. “But for whatever reason, they were hell bent on arresting her, arresting somebody, that day.”
Two weeks after Burkhalter’s arrest, the Sheriff’s Office issued new guidance for deputies outlining the state’s law on CBD that said “…because of the confusion surrounding CBD, deputies are encouraged to consult on-call Narcotics or Legal prior to effectuating an arrest or seizing CBD.”
Spectrum News reached out to Disney and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office about the lawsuit, but as of Wednesday had not received a response.
Grandmother sues Disney World for millions after CBD oil arrest
ORLANDO, Fla. – A grandmother who was arrested outside Walt Disney World is suing the happiest place on earth with the help of a well-known attorney.
Hester Burkhalter, 69, was arrested in April after Disney security found a bottle of CBD oil while searching her purse at a security checkpoint.
According to TMZ, civil rights attorney Ben Crump just filed a lawsuit against Disney, the Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of Burkhalter.
Crump is most notably known for representing the family of George Floyd. Floyd was an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis who was killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life.
The TMZ report reads, According to the lawsuit, obtained by TMZ, Hester says she was arrested and detained by cops at Disney World in April 2019 — even though she claims the CBD oil was purely for medical purposes related to her arthritis and didn’t contain THC.
CBD oil is extracted from the flowers of marijuana plants, but it doesn’t produce a high. Burkhalter said she had a doctor’s note saying it was prescribed for her arthritis.
Burkhalter went on to state that she panicked while being placed in the back of a police car and began vomiting. She claims that she was denied medical attention and subjected to a miserable 15-hour ordeal.
The grandmother added that she was humiliated because the officers allegedly made her strip down at the jail to be searched.
In the suit, Burkhalter is alleging assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, defamation and emotional distress among many others, according to Crump’s law firm.
She is requesting more than $18 million in damages plus additional damages for her husband and other family members who were vacationing at the theme park with her.
In May, all charges against the grandmother were dropped after prosecutors said that the case against Burkhalter wasn’t suitable for prosecution.