A North Carolina woman who was arrested in 2019 for having CBD oil on her person is suing Disney World and a Florida sheriff’s department for an unlawful arrest.
Hester Burkhalter, 69, of Hickory, North Carolina, was “wrongfully arrested and taken into custody at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for possessing federally legal CBD oil,” according to attorney Ben Crump.
Crump has filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of Burkhalter and her family against several parties including Walt Disney Co. and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Burkhalter was in possession of therapeutic CBD oil, recommended by her doctor for her severe osteoarthritis in her legs.
CBD is a natural alternative for anti-inflammatory medication that is derived from the cannabis plant and contains little or no THC, the active drug found in marijuana. In fact, CBD oil is legal in Florida and is widely sold throughout the state, according to a complaint filed by Crump on July 29.
Even after a field test showed that Burkhalter’s CBD oil contained zero THC, the sheriff’s deputy still charged her with felony narcotics possession.
Burkhalter was unlawfully detained in front of her family, including her husband, their disabled daughter and two adopted children. She was then handcuffed in front of dozens of tourists and taken to the sheriff’s office.
Burkhalter was later released on $2,000 bail after 15 hours of detainment. The charges were dropped.
The lawsuit requests $6 million in compensatory damages, $12 million in punitive damages, and an additional amount to her family for the financial and emotional suffering, according to the complaint.
The complaint states, "Defendants Disney and uniformed local law enforcement officials acting at its direction and under its authority as a Florida landowner ... arrested and detained, processed as a narcotics felon and strip-searched a harmless, entirely blameless American great-grandmother, whose only 'crime' was her desire to lessen crippling osteoarthritic pain with a doctor-recommended hemp-based oil, while giving her family, including a disabled adult daughter and two adopted pre-teen children, an enjoyable vacation at the 'Disney World's entertainment complex near Orlando."
"The disgraceful events that animate this lawsuit 'pull back the curtain' on the casual cruelty and unpardonable ineptitude that lie at Disney's cold corporate heart."
According to a news conference with Crump and Burkhalter, and the recently filed complaint, Burkhart traveled with her family to Disney World in April of 2019 after saving for the trip for over two years.
When the family arrived to Magic Kingdom, security asked Burkhalter as standard procedure to remove the contents of her bag and place her belongings into the security bin. This included a one-ounce container of CBD oil.
Burkhalter explicitly stated that she used CBD oil to help treat her advanced arthritis per her doctor’s recommendation. Security then asked her if the substance contained THC, which Burkhalter did not know at the time. However, the CBD oil read 0% THC on the bottle.
Burkhalter was then separated from her family, subjected to drug sniffing dogs and reportedly vomited during transport. She requested medical care and was denied by the arresting officers.
“It was the most humiliating day of my life,” said Burkhalter in Wednesday’s news conference with CNN.
Crump is a nationally-known attorney who has represented the families of African Americans who lost their lives by law enforcement. His most recent clients include the families of both George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Lawsuits involving civil rights infractions will continue to rise if law enforcement and businesses do not educate themselves on these legal matters. CBD was legalized under the Farm Bill in 2018 as long as the hemp products contain no more than 0.3% THC (by dry weight).
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