Great-Grandmother Arrested at Disney World


Thrown in the slammer over a harmless, natural substance

A  69-year-old great grandmother spent twelve hours in jail last month after she was arrested at Disney World because security officials found CBD oil (cannabidiol) in her purse that she had reportedly been using to alleviate her arthritis.

Although CBD is derived from cannabis, it doesn’t contain any THC, the psychoactive component that’s found in regular marijuana. So basically, this poor old woman had to spend time in the slammer for possession of something that can’t even get you high. On top of that, CBD is legal in North Carolina, the woman’s home state — and widely available in stores, though it’s still technically illegal in Florida itself.

“I have really bad arthritis in my legs, in my arms, and in my shoulder,” the woman, Hester Burkhalter, told Orlando’s local Fox affiliate. “I use [CBD oil] for the pain because it helps.”

In other words, Burkhalter was trying to use a harmless, natural substance to help keep her physical pain in check enough for her to enjoy some quality time at the Happiest Place on Earth, and she was thrown into jail like a criminal because of it. Oh, and it gets worse: She reportedly had a doctor’s note with her in her purse in addition to the CBD.

Although the charges against Burkhalter have been dropped — as they should have been — this woman should not have had to spend any time in jail over this in the first place. Presumably for this reason, her attorney, Benjamin Crump, said he is planning to sue both the Orange County Sheriff’s office and Disney on her behalf, arguing that she had endured “illegal detention, false arrest, and a violation of her civil rights.”

I certainly hope that Burkhalter is compensated for her ordeal, and I hope that states will change their laws so that no one else has to worry about going through a similar one. As a libertarian, I can admit that my position on this issue — that Burkhalter shouldn’t have been arrested even if she had heroin in her purse, because it’s her right to decide for herself what she wants to put into her own body — might be too controversial for some people, but when it comes to CBD, I really don’t understand how a single person could disagree with me on this.

Unlike scarier drugs such as heroin — or even legal opioids like Oxycontin — CBD isn’t addictive. This makes sense: It doesn’t even get you high, which is more than you can say about completely legal things like alcohol or even sugar. What’s more, unlike other perfectly legal drugs, it does not seem to have any major side effects, according to Dr. Esther Blessing, an associate professor of psychiatry at New York University who is very involved in CBD research. In fact, Blessing claims that all current evidence suggests that the active ingredient in CBD oil is completely safe.

Although research into its effectiveness is still in the beginning stages — thanks, of course, in large part to government restrictions that I’d chalk up to nothing more than stigma — many people, such as Burkhalter, have tried it for themselves and found that it alleviates both physical and mental pain. In a country that is currently being devastated by an epidemic of abuse of legal drugs with devastating side effects (ranging from addiction to death) like Oxycontin, you would think that governments would not want to stop people from using something seemingly harmless like CBD instead.

The bottom line is that there’s absolutely no reason to put people behind bars for trying to manage their pain — especially when the method they’re choosing not only doesn’t hurt anyone else but also doesn’t even hurt them themselves.

This story previously appeared in an article in Reason.

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