PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. - The party ship carrying thousands of revelers out to sea for a music festival, returned to Port Canaveral on Wednesday, less than a week after a New York-based DJ and two dozen others were arrested on marijuana and other drug charges.
The arrests – which involved federal, state and local law enforcement efforts – took place Saturday during embarkation for the Norwegian Epic, a cruise ship hosting the Holy Ship! festival and designed for 4,000 people, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
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Local and federal agents patrolled the area with drug-detecting police dogs and there was at least one report of a person acting erratically, believed to be intoxicated at the port as the ship prepared to leave.
Authorities said the arrests offer a cautionary tale to tourists and travelers to be aware of Florida’s drug laws regarding cannabis and related products.
Several of those arrested also carried medical marijuana cards from California — something not legally recognized in Florida where state legislators are still working out the kinks for in-state residents. Bottom line, said prosecutors, medicinal marijuana from others states is still illegal in the Sunshine state.
The ship, the Norwegian Epic, returned to port about 6 a.m. and was set to leave Terminal 10 later today, returning to sea for another cruise to a private Caribbean island.
There was a heavy presence of Brevard County sheriff's deputies at the terminal.
One of the more high-profile arrests Saturday involved 34-year-old Gina Marie Van Scheppingen, who goes by stage name DJ Gina Turner. Deputies searched through her bag and found THC-laced edibles, along with THC oil pipes and 1.5 grams of powdered cocaine, reports show.
Scheppingen – described by the music industry trade magazine, Billboard, as a Holy Ship! regular – briefly took to Twitter to deny the charges and said she would return again to take Wednesday’s cruise to the Caribbean.
“I can’t say much regarding this case. But I’ll be back on @Holy_Ship 11.0 and the alleged charges are invalid. The two controlled substances I had were both marijuana (plus) I have a medical card,” she wrote.
“The other charge is COMPLETELY false. A false positive reading on a natural vitamin.”
Prosecutors, including those in the court circuit where Scheppingen could have her case heard, disagreed.
Dan Faggard, the felony intake division chief for the Seminole County branch of the Brevard-Seminole State Attorney’s office, said under the current law, a person would need to be a Florida resident to get a Florida medical marijuana card.
He also pointed out that for now, the cards issued by other states are not recognized in Florida. Faggard added that he has not heard of a lot of cases where people claimed having an out-of-state medical marijuana card as a legal defense.
“We haven’t seen a lot of that. We have seen some individuals who have medical marijuana cards, but most don’t try to present the card. We see a lot of weird defense all the time, but that’s not one,” Faggard said.
Saturday’s sweeping drug arrests also come at a time when the state continues to sort out its own medical marijuana laws.
For now, that means Florida is not beholden to the marijuana laws of other states, making weed an illegal controlled substance inside the state. Prosecutors point out that each state has its own standards and requirements.
It remains illegal to attempt to bring marijuana aboard any cruise ship or airline.
THC pills, weed oil for vaping, marijuana-infused gummies and even pot-laced espresso beans were found among the suspects hoping to take the youth culture inspired party cruise.
Ryan Canty came to cruise from Westminster, Calif., telling officers he didn't know about Florida's marijuana laws when he was found with approximately 100 grams of weed gummies. Although California authorities might not have done anything because of his medical marijuana card, Brevard County Sheriff's Office and Customs and Border Patrol agents with drug-sniffing dogs stopped them from leaving the Port.
Jordan Parks, a cruise passenger from Washington state, was one of the hundreds waiting outside the cruise terminal Wednesday morning. He doesn't support bringing drugs on the cruise, even if it happens to be legal where they're from.
"We're not here to ruin it, you know. Do you really wanna be the one making the bad choice looking at everybody getting on the ship while you get to set here and not go?" he wondered of anyone who would try to bring drugs through the terminal.
“People are expected to know what’s expected of them,” Faggard said.
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