Banned by their cruise line because of CBD candies. But you’ll never guess what happened next

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By Christopher Elliott

Maybe you’ve heard about cruise lines banning guests who pack even small amounts of CBD in their luggage, sometimes unintentionally. It made headlines last year, and two of the passengers were Stephen and Susan Shub. 

As the couple was boarding the Carnival Conquest in Miami last August, a security agent stopped them and searched their belongings. He found a half-finished tin of CBD mints in Stephen Shub’s backpack.

And that was the end of his cruise. 

“They took away my husband’s boarding pass,” she says. “They didn’t allow him to board the ship.”

Carnival refunded his shore excursions and port fees but kept his cruise fare. Then it banned the Shubs from future cruises.

Seems a little much, right? But you’ll never guess how this story ends. 

The Shubs’ case raises some questions: 

  • Do cruise lines allow CBD on ships?
  • What happens if a cruise line catches me with drugs before boarding the ship?
  • Do cruise lines ban passengers they catch with drugs?

As is so often the case in travel, there’s the official answer — and there’s the truth. We’ll get to that in a moment.

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“Our entire family was stunned”

The Shubs were already in a dark place before they arrived at the port. Their extended family — brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews — had come together to spread Stephen’s sister’s ashes. She had died after a long, painful illness. 

But why do it on a four-night cruise to Key West and Cozumel? Because the family had a deep connection to Carnival. 

Susan Shub’s nephew had worked for the cruise line for a decade. But the cruise line was also a favorite of her deceased sister-in-law. She and her husband were platinum-level frequent cruisers on Carnival. So it seemed appropriate for the entire family to gather on the Conquest to say goodbye to her.

But as they were checking in, a drug-sniffing dog perked up when it sniffed Stephen Shub’s backpack.

“A Carnival representative directed us to a corner where an inspector opened his backpack and took out the contents and found a small bag of mints,” she recalls. “Inside were a few cannabis mints mixed with the others that had been there for a very long time. On very rare occasions, if my husband has trouble sleeping, he eats a mint, and it seems to help. He hadn’t done that in so long that he totally forgot that he had any mints in his backpack, much less a few with cannabis.

A Carnival representative said her husband would not be allowed to join the 10 other family members on the cruise.

“We were ready to perform a sacred ritual, and he could not board because of a few mints,” she says. “Just appalling.”

Stephen Shub encouraged his wife to go on the cruise without him, and so she boarded the ship. But there was a dark cloud over the entire event, and Stephen Shub missed a chance to say goodbye to his sister.

And then things got even worse.

Carnival: You’re both banned forever 

While she was still on the cruise, Carnival sent Stephen Shub some bad news: Carnival had banned them both — for life.

Here’s the message:

Mr. / Ms. Shub:

This letter is to inform you that you will not be able to sail onboard any Carnival Cruise Line vessel in the future as a result of the narcotics found in your checked-in luggage during embarkation on the Carnival Conquest and for which you were denied boarding.

Your attempt to book a future cruise with Carnival Cruise Line will result in its cancellation and possible loss of deposit monies.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,

Kevin Greenwood
Staff Investigator
Carnival Security Services

“Ironically, there were quite a few times while on the ship that I smelled cannabis,” she recalls. “Probably half the crowd brought it in their suitcases, which I guess were not checked.”

The email from Carnival also contained a glaring error. It said the reason for his ban was that he had brought narcotics on board. In fact, he had never brought cannabis on the ship. Carnival caught him with a few CBD candies.

Worse, Carnival was keeping Stephen Shub’s cruise fare of about $500.

“The only refunds we received were a check for the prepaid tips, which was under $48, and a credit on our credit card for $145 for port fees and taxes, which I assume was from changing the destinations,” she says. “Carnival wouldn’t refund him – again, all for a few mints!”

Do cruise lines allow CBD on ships?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound synthesized from the cannabis plant. It’s used widely for pain relief and reducing anxiety.

Cruise ships do not allow CBD on their ships. Even though you may be able to possess CBD candies in the U.S., it may not be allowed in other countries visited by cruise ships.

As a result, virtually all the cruise lines ban CBD products. Here’s Carnival’s policy. 

Among prohibited items, it lists: 

Any illegal narcotics/drugs including synthetic, designer drugs, marijuana, cannabis and cannabis derivatives such as Cannabidiol (CBD) items which may be labeled as medical marijuana. While certain CBD products used for medicinal purposes may be legal in the U.S. based on state and local laws, they are not legal under U.S. federal law and in all the ports we visit and therefore are also considered prohibited items. 

But there’s an interesting back story. Last summer, all of the major cruise lines operating out of the United States publicly “clarified” their CBD policies, perhaps at the request of the federal government or a foreign government. Specifically, they ban any kind of CBD or cannabis products. (Related: Help! My American Cruise Lines protection plan isn’t protecting me.)

Then in late summer, they began cracking down on passengers who brought small amounts of CBD on the ship. Passengers with CBD gummies were being banned for life. It’s almost as if they were trying to make an example of them. The mainstream media picked up these stories and reported them uncritically.

But they missed the real story.

What happens if I get caught with drugs before boarding a cruise ship?

In the past, cruise lines have been relatively lenient when they catch passengers trying to board a vessel with a banned item — especially something as harmless as a few CBD candies.

  • At the very least, the cruise line will confiscate the CBD gummies before you board the ship. You may also get a verbal warning about bringing a prohibited item onboard.
  • If you’re carrying street drugs, they will be confiscated and the cruise line may also notify law enforcement. Your cruise will probably be over, and there’s no hope for a refund.
  • Decisions about adding you to the “No Sail” list can take time. You will hear back from the cruise line within a few days about whether you’ve been banned.

It’s possible that Shub was part of an industry-wide effort to discourage passengers from bringing drugs on board. It appears they targeted petty offenders — often people who weren’t even aware they were breaking the rules — to make examples of them..

If that’s true, then the cruise lines also were betting the media had a short attention span. And it does — except for this site.

Do cruise lines ban passengers who are caught with drugs?

It depends. 

If you ask a cruise line, it will tell you that it has a zero-tolerance policy toward drugs. If a cruise line catches anyone with drugs, they’ll escort them off the ship at the next port and hand them over to law enforcement. It will also add drug offenders to the “Do Not Sail” list. 

If that were true, cruise lines like Carnival would lose too many customers. (After all, they don’t call it the “fun ship” for nothing.) More often, cruise lines look the other way when passengers use drugs, especially those that are legal on land, such as marijuana. (Here’s our guide to taking a cruise.)

Most of the cases we receive about being added to the “Do Not Sail” list involve objectionable behavior, such as arguing with a crewmember or assaulting another passenger. So banning a passenger because of a few CBD mints seems like a complete overreaction, perhaps for propaganda purposes.

And it turns out that’s exactly what this was.

How we resolved the case of the CBD candies

First up was the appeal to the president of Carnival. We list her email address on this site, along with the other executive contacts.

Susan Shub wrote a brief, polite email using our proven strategies. She argued that bringing the CBD mints was an innocent mistake and that Carnival should remove their names from the “Do Not Sail” list and return their cruise fare.

I remained in contact with Shub last year. My team did not contact Carnival on her behalf. We generally do not get involved in drug-related cases, and didn’t want to rehash all the breathless stories that had been written about cruise passengers being banned. 

There was something about those cases that just felt off. (Related: Can I get my money back for a bad cruise?)

And there was.

Five months after Carnival banned the Shubs, the couple received a phone call from the cruise line.

“The agent said he works directly with the president of Carnival, and after reviewing my letter they wanted to show some good faith,” she says. “He said they would not ban my husband or me from their cruises and in addition wanted to give us a $500 credit towards a future cruise in 2024.” (Related: My cruise line changed my itinerary! Can you help me fix it?)

Shub said she didn’t plan to cruise in 2024.

“The representative then said he would instead mail me a check for that amount,” she says, “and he did.”

That’s some ending. Carnival removes a passenger for having a few CBD mints, bans him and his wife, keeps his cruise fare — and then quietly does an about-face when it thinks no one is paying attention anymore.

But we were paying attention. And now you have the whole story.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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