Lena Bartula, at age 71, is an accomplished artist and proud grandmother who had an unsettling experience as she passed through North Texas on her way to visit her granddaughter in Oregon.
In fact, a nightmare, she said, would be a better description for when police officers slapped handcuffs on her at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after they found cannabidiol (CBD) oil in her travel bag.
The Fort Worth native, who now lives in an artist community in Mexico, was told she was under arrest.
“I think I almost laughed out loud, because I thought that couldn’t really be,” Bartula said in a Skype interview with NBC 5 Investigates.
She realized it was no laughing matter when, handcuffed, she was driven to the DFW Airport jail where, “I slept on the floor, my head next to the toilet.”
It was a far cry from the peaceful, picturesque community in Mexico where Bartula runs a popular gallery.
And it only got worse the next day — she said her arms and legs were shackled, and she was moved to the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth to spend another night behind bars, then facing a felony drug charge.
“I had no idea what would happen to me,” Bartula recalled.
Records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates showed that other travelers have been arrested at the airport for having CBD, with two of them telling us they were still waiting for the outcome to their cases.
CBD oil is a hemp-derived substance that is gaining in popularity for its purported health benefits. State lawmakers are now considering whether to make it legal, if it contains little or no THC, the component in marijuana that, in higher amounts, produces a high.
A year ago, arrests for CBD at the airport were “almost non-existent,” said Cleatus Hunt Jr., area port director for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at DFW.
“But in the last six months, the interception rate for that has skyrocketed,” Hunt said.
Attorneys for the CBD industry said federal authorities have no right to detain someone with the product. They argue that hemp-made CBD was legalized in December with the passage of the federal farm bill.
But Customs officials said they were still in the process of implementing the new federal rules so, for now, products with THC are still prohibited at ports of entry, such as the one at DFW Airport.
As a rule, if federal authorities detect THC, they notify the airport police who likely will make an arrest, because state law prohibits CBD oil with any amount of THC in it.
CBD oil has become a health craze, both in Texas and across the country, with users saying it does such things as ease their anxiety and soothe their aches and pains.
For Bartula, she said it was those aches and pains — so common as the years add up — that caused her to use CBD for relief.
Her case was dropped, when a Tarrant County grand jury declined to move the case forward.
Still, those nights in jail have convinced her to never again pack CBD in a suitcase when she travels — a bit of advice she’s quick to give to her friends.
“I have warned everyone I know because most people my age, with my kinds of aches and pains, do take this,” said Bartula. “They rely on it.”