Great-grandmother to sue Disney, Orange County Sheriff's Office over CBD oil arrest

Charges dropped against Hester Burkhalter

By Cathleigh Winningham - Producer, Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - Attorneys representing a great-grandmother who was recently arrested while trying to enter Disney World with CBD oil have filed a notice of intent to sue the Walt Disney Corp. and the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

An Orange County sheriff's deputy arrested Hester Burkhalter, 69, last month after Disney security found the oil in her purse when she handed it over to be searched.

Burkhalter, of Tennessee, told investigators that her doctor suggested she use the oil to treat arthritis. According to her attorneys Burkhalter's doctor faxed a copy of a prescription down to Orange County the day of her arrest.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Burkhalter, said she was in jail for about 12 hours before she posted bail. The charges against her were later dropped.

[RELATED: Can you carry CBD in Florida?]

Crump said he has filed a motion Tuesday notifying Walt Disney World and the Orange County Sheriff's Office of the intent to sue.

Crump said the lawsuit will claim illegal detainment, false imprisonment and defamation of character and violation of civil rights against the Sheriff's Office.

Attorneys announced the lawsuit Tuesday morning outside Orlando City Hall.

"This was a dream vacation for Ms. Burkhalter and her family to what is supposed to be the happiest place on earth - Walt Disney World. While Ms. Burkhalter's charges have since been dropped, her family's dream vacation will always be remembered as a nightmare complete with 12 hours detained in jail after this false arrest," Crump and attorney Michele Rayner said in a statement. "We expect better from Walt Disney World and demand a public apology while we pursue all avenues for justice for her."

The 69-year-old said the off-duty deputy who detained and arrested her never asked if the oil contained THC and treated her unfairly when she asked for medical help.

Burkhalter said after she was placed in handcuffs and placed into the back of a patrol car she was having trouble breathing and told the deputy.

"I panicked, I told him I couldn’t breathe," she said, adding after she starting becoming physically sick she was allowed out of the back of the car.

"He was very mean. He was cruel, he wasn’t very professional at all," Burkhalter said. "I guess he was an angry person."

CBD oil is extracted from the flowers of marijuana plants, but it doesn't produce a high.

Burkhalter's attorneys said the off-duty deputy conducted a presumptive test on-site which tested positive for THC, leading to her arrest. However, Burkhalter's attorneys, say these field tests are not able to detect the difference between CBD and THC. The only way to do that is to send the sample to a lab for testing.

CBD is currently not legal in Florida without a medical marijuana card, however is is legal federally.

Florida lawmakers recently passed legislation that is awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis' signature that would make CBD legal in the state. For more information on the hemp farming bill, click here.

[Questions about using CBD in Florida? Click here for more information.]

After Burkhalter's arrest, the Sheriff's Office sent out a memo to deputies reminding them that, "Because of the confusion surrounding CBD, deputies are encouraged to consult on-call Narcotics or Legal prior to effectuating an arrest or seizing CBD."

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