Does powdered CBD look too much like cocaine? Marijuana has been fully legal in Colorado for the past five years. It is a scenario that has given the cannabis industry the foothold needed to get on the path to becoming one of the fastest growing and most profitable business sectors operating in the United States. But despite legalization, law-abiding citizens still jam up in the state’s legal system because municipal police officers cannot seem to tell the difference between cannabis products and illegal drugs that could potentially land someone in prison.
This situation has the Turner family in a state of peril. All because a small town cop mistook powdered CBD for cocaine.
Douglas County resident Crystal Turner recently began using CBD to combat her muscle pain. The 32-year-old software engineer and mother of four has trouble taking over-the-counter pain relievers. They make her nauseous. But Crystal found success with powdered CBD. The herb proved to be a solid remedy for her aches and pains. It also helped to improve her overall state of mind.
“It helped with my body pain, it helped with my mood even, and didn’t have any side effects,” she said.
A Twisted Turn
In October, as Crystal drove home from work, an officer with the Parker Police Department pulled her over, seemingly about expired tags. But a routine traffic stop transitioned into a question about whether she possessed illegal drugs. The officer, Casey Cashman, asked Crystal for permission to search the vehicle. She declined, explaining that she needed to get home to relieve the nanny. Cashman took his dope-seeking mission to the next level.
“He told me that since I refused the search, he had the right to walk the drug dog around my car,” Crystal said.
When the officer unleashed the hound, Crystal did not think that she had any reason to be concerned. She says that she has never “intentionally” taken illegal drugs in her life. Nevertheless, the drug dog (Rico) rounded the vehicle and took a seat right in front of the driver side door. This alerted the officer that there might be some illegal contraband inside.
Officer Cashman told Crystal that Rico’s actions gave him the probable cause he needed to search the vehicle.
So, he did.
The Powdered CBD
During the search, the officer quickly discovered a jar of what Crystal identified as powdered CBD. But the cop immediately jumped to the conclusion that the powdered CBD was actually cocaine.
Crystal said she attempted to explain that the substance was just a pulverized form of legal marijuana. It was in a dispensary jar and obtained through one of her friends with connections to the cannabis trade. But he still insisted on running the powdered CBD through a field drug testing kit for confirmation.
And that didn’t work out for Crystal.
The test registered pink over blue, indicating that the substance was positive for cocaine. But when the officer showed Crystal the results, she said because of how he pinched it, “the pink looked clear.”
Nevertheless, Cashman arrested her for possession of cocaine.
Things Started Getting Weird A Month Earlier
Crystal told High Times that she had been using a Nectar Collector to medicate. People commonly use the device for dabbing. But it proved to be the right tool for the job after other mechanisms, including vape pens, fell short. But her CBD toking system was about to cause her more trouble than she ever expected.
In September, she began to experience a wealth of unexplainable health issues. Tasks that would normally take only a few minutes to complete were all of a sudden taking hours.
The situation eventually got serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room. But after a series of tests, the hospital staff simply could not find anything wrong with her.
“I thought there was a parasite in my brain,” she said. “But they kept telling me I was fine.”
The symptoms of this mystery disorder continued to escalate. She began experiencing frightening hallucinations. It was at that point she considered admitting herself to a mental health facility.
“I was seeing things coming out of my skin, seeing things that were not there,” she said. “I thought I was going crazy.”
Throughout the ordeal, Crystal said her husband questioned whether she was telling the truth about her status as a drug user. His suspicions ran deep enough that the couple eventually returned to the hospital so that she could submit to a urinalysis (UA). She hoped it would put her husband’s mind at ease. But it didn’t. The results of the test confirmed that she had methamphetamine in her system.
A Violation Of Trust
Crystal soon discovered that her assistant had been using her Nectar Collector to smoke meth.
The madness she had been going through was drug withdrawal, due to the meth residue in her device.
“My body got used to getting it every single day, but I was never mentally high,” she said.
Crystal said she figured it out after a doctor asked to see a timeline of her symptoms prior to visiting the ER.
“It occurred to me that it could have only been three people: My husband, my nanny, or my assistant. My husband has never done a drug in his life and would never do that. My nanny is the best ever and had no motive. However, my assistant, I knew was a recovering meth addict. Putting that together with the fact my Nector Collector was something she urged me to buy and had access to on a daily basis, that’s how I figured it out.”
Think Of The Children
But the news of Crystal’s methamphetamine use prompted family members (from her husband’s side) to reach out to Child Protective Service (CPS) to conduct an investigation.
CPS required Crystal to provide them with three UA’s so far, all of which have come back negative for illegal drugs.
However, the agency recommended that she and husband Ben temporarily place the children with family members. A hair follicle test came back positive for meth.
Tests can detect drugs in the urine for up to a few days. But a hair test can register illegal substances for up to several months. Even though Crystal tried to explain the situation surrounding the positive result, the agency still moved forward with supervised visitations.
The Turner’s family situation is a bit volatile. Some of them are having a difficult time forgetting a few incidents from many years ago. One of which involved a burglary.
Crystal explained that her ex-boyfriend was refusing to return some of her belongings. She used her house key to enter the home and reclaim them. Ben, the new boyfriend, and future husband, was with her. Both faced charges for the crime.
Ben’s family afforded him with proper legal counsel. But Crystal had no other option but to face the judge armed with only a public defender. In the end, the court sentenced her to five years in prison. Ben received probation.
Wrongly Accused And Now Homeless
On the day of the arrest, Crystal and Ben had been preparing to go to court over a simple lease dispute. The couple had filed a lawsuit against their landlord for failing to complete some of the housing upgrades promised at the time of their move.
But they had not planned on the added stress of Crystal’s night in the local jail. Although the court released her the next day on a personal recognizance bond, she says the ordeal caused the couple to enter into court completely unprepared. They lost the case. The property owner gave them 48 hours to vacate the premises.
She and her husband Ben have been living in a hotel ever since.
To make matters worse, CPS got wind of Crystal’s arrest and ordered that she have absolutely no contact with her children. Family members still have custody of the kids.
The powdered CBD incident taking place a month after Crystal tested positive for methamphetamine has not exactly instilled trust in those family members already skeptical of her integrity. The whole situation even has her husband Ben second-guessing his faith in her. Crystal says she has taken a few at-home drugs tests to keep the peace.
“My entire family has turned their backs on me,” she said. “They think I’m just some crazy drug addict that is lying. I get it, it’s totally unbelievable, but the crazy part about it is it’s true.”
Officer Cashman And The Missed Pot Pipe
This was not Crystal’s first interaction with Officer Cashman. She said he arrested her more than a decade ago on an outstanding warrant related to a trespassing charge.
But that was at a time before Colorado made the move to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, which could have posed an added problem for Crystal because she was holding a marijuana pipe at the time of her arrest.
But she managed to stash the illegal paraphernalia in the backseat of Cashman’s vehicle. The officer completely failed to catch the pipe at the time, but he did not miss an opportunity to bring it up during their latest rendezvous.
“As he was bringing me in the jail, he reminded me that 12 years ago, I stashed a weed pipe in his backseat,” she said, adding that he was extra diligent this time around when searching the back of his cruiser. “He was really expecting me to put something back there.”
Crystal wonders if Cashman had faced trouble years ago for not discovering the marijuana paraphernalia.
“He didn’t say he got into trouble over it, but I found it strange that he brought that up,” she said.
The Problem With Drug Dogs
Although some reports over the past few months have suggested that many Colorado law enforcement agencies are retiring drug dogs trained to alert on marijuana, this is not the case in every jurisdiction.
Officer Cashman informed Crystal prior to letting Rico investigate her vehicle that the dog was trained to detect “cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates and marijuana,” she said.
If true, the powdered CBD in the console of her vehicle would have been sufficient enough to raise a red flag.
But a Parker Police Department spokesman Josh Han told High Times that their drug dogs do not alert on cannabis.
“Our K-9s are not trained to detect the odor of marijuana, only illicit felony controlled substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, MDMA and psilocybin,” he said.
It is possible that municipal police officers around Colorado may not be receiving the necessary training to deal with marijuana in its legitimate surroundings. But when it comes to distinguishing between the various forms of this legal substance and drugs that are still considered outlaw substances, Han said Parker Police officers are fully capable.
“Parker Police Department Officers receive annual in-service training in current drug trends, drug identification and updated drug laws,” he said. “We have three certified Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) assigned to the Patrol Division. While DREs generally are utilized to detect drivers under the influence of substances other than alcohol, they receive extensive training in drug identification.”
“Additionally, our DREs and several patrol officers have attended numerous courses pertaining to cannabis, effects of cannabis and cannabis identification,” he added. “These courses include ‘field trips’ to local dispensaries in order to familiarize themselves with current cannabis products, packaging and ingestion techniques. This information is then relayed to patrol officers through annual in-service training.”
But field drug tests, like the one that got Crystal into trouble, are a problem.
Field Drug Tests
These instruments used by officers to identify mystery substances are infamous for producing false positives.
In 2016, the New York Times in conjunction with ProPublica conducted an investigation over the use of these inexpensive tests. They found them to be extremely unreliable.
For example, the chemical used to determine whether a substance is cocaine (cobalt thiocyanate) was found to produce a positive result when exposed to around 80 other substances, including acne medications and household cleaners. The accuracy of these tests also depends on whether an officer uses them correctly. If one of the tubes has damage in the wrong sequence, it can have an effect on the results. A number of other factors also make these tests a crapshoot.
Nevertheless, they remain a prominent tool in the arena of drug enforcement all over the nation—even in Douglas County.
“Parker Police Officers receive training in the proper use of Narcotic Identification Kits (NIK) as well as the potential for false positives,” Han said. “These kits provide a ‘presumptive positive’ and it is not until a crime lab confirms what the substance is that it is ‘conclusive evidence.’”
Decades ago, the Department of Justice determined that field drug tests “should not be used for evidentiary purposes.” This means these things are inadmissible in a court of law. It is up to a crime lab to identify a substance and provide the courts with “conclusive evidence,” Han said.
But crime labs often experience a serious backlog, putting suspected drug offenders like Crystal on the hook for an undetermined amount of time.
Until the lab says otherwise, prosecutors assume the offender is guilty of the crime, even though this practice blatantly goes against the grain of the U.S. Constitution.
“The courts have, and still do, accept presumptive positive NIK tests to support probable cause for an arrest,” Han said.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have been known, even without definitive evidence from the crime lab, to pressure a suspect to accept a plea deal in order to wrap up the case as quickly as possible.
Final Hit: Colorado Cops Think Powdered CBD Is Cocaine
Around 100,000 people plead guilty to drug charges every year based simply on the results of these field drug tests.
Crystal will appear in court again at the beginning of January. The prosecution may offer her a plea arrangement. It remains to be seen whether the crime lab will have proved her innocence before that time. If not, she may need to make a drastic decision—accept a deal or stand a jury trial.
That’s something she is prepared to do.
She feels confident that the charges against her will be dismissed once the crime lab processes the evidence. But until then, this powdered CBD user is still very much on the hook for possession of cocaine.
“I’ll never plead guilty to something I did not do,” Crystal said. “I’ll take it all the way to trial.”