Earlier this month, the drug dogs arrived at Lake Highlands High School. As highly-trained canines roamed the east parking lot sniffing out tobacco, marijuana and other drugs, one stopped and stood at attention for his handlers from the Dallas Police Department. When the designated white Jeep Cherokee was searched, a lighter and three packs of cigars were discovered and a tiny bottle labeled “CBD oil” was found under the seat. Officers used a test kit to analyze the mixture inside and found the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content to be 0.22%. THC is the substance in marijuana which makes people high.
Marijuana is illegal in Texas, but cannabis products with a THC concentration of less than 0.3% are designated as hemp and have been declared legal in the state. CBD (cannabidiol) is a nonpsychoactive compound of cannabis, and businesses may sell it provided the THC is less than 0.3%. CBD works with the body’s receptors to produce a wide range of benefits, from helping to reduce stress and insomnia to alleviating pain and inflammation. Governor Abbott has approved it to treat epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.
Back at LHHS, 17-year-old Braden Pesterfield was questioned as the driver of the Jeep. He confessed that the items belonged to him, and was sent to ISS (in-school suspension) for a day and a half for the lighter and tobacco. A hearing was held regarding the CBD oil, and RISD officials found him guilty of possession of a felony controlled substance. He was sent to the Christa McAuliffe Learning Center (CMLC) for a 90-day term at alternative school, effective immediately.
Richardson ISD’s Student Code of Conduct for 2019-20 makes no reference to CBD oil specifically, but Braden was disciplined under Category III, Section 5A: “Engaging in the following conduct if it is punishable as a felony: a. Using, possessing, being under the influence of, or selling, giving, or delivering to another person marijuana, a dangerous drug.” He was punished, in essence, for bringing marijuana to school.
Braden’s mom, Holly Uhlmann, was horrified. She’d been purchasing CBD oil to treat her son’s anxiety and sleeplessness for months, and she’d been amazed at the positive results. Though she was aware Braden had used vaping products and marijuana at times, she could see the way CBD oil was curbing that desire and improving his self-esteem and performance in academic and social situations.
“I buy it for him at the CBD American Shaman store on Northwest Highway,” Holly told me, incredulous that the product legally touted at a neighborhood shop and at stores all over Dallas could have led to such a harsh punishment for her son. “He’s purchased some at the Circle K at Lakeridge Village. Kids buy it over the counter like chewing gum. They have a huge display.”
Holly was also frustrated because law enforcement at the school refused her request to test THC levels in her son’s blood that morning and retest contents of the bottle, which was labeled, she said, as 0% THC.
Though she knows she’s risking embarrassment to herself and her family, Holly, a nurse, said she felt compelled to share her story and warn the community. People need to know, she said, what can happen if you purchase CBD products to help your child with issues like attention deficit or anxiety or if they buy them without your knowledge believing the products are safe and legal. Parents should be careful too, she says, about leaving their own CBD potions in the family car when their student drives to school.
“CBD is so common, people never think in a million years it’s a problem,” Holly said. “It’s totally mainstream and so helpful. That’s why it’s so alarming for RISD to take such a strong stance with no middle ground. Braden was treated the same way as the kid with marijuana in his backpack.”
She also believes RISD has a double standard.
“I guarantee 50% of the teachers have CBD hand cream in their desk for their arthritis,” Holly told me, only half-joking.
RISD officials declined to provide a statement on Braden’s case or about their policy on CBD oil.
Braden’s family appealed his sentence, but the 90-day stint in alternative school was upheld. After the coronavirus outbreak, RISD announced suspended classes indefinitely, and all students will be learning online. One stipulation of being sent to CMLC is that students aren’t permitted at any other RISD campus or facility. That means Braden will be barred from attending his twin siblings’ graduation in May with other family members, if a ceremony is held. Barrett is a Bell Boy and Caroline was named Student of the Month for March by the Exchange Club.