Shona Banda, a Kansas marijuana advocate, turned herself in to authorities Monday on an arrest warrant with five charges relating to marijuana use.
Banda, 37, drew national attention when she lost custody of her son and was accused of three felony and two misdemeanor charges of using marijuana to treat her Crohn’s disease. Her son made comments about his mother’s marijuana use during an anti-drug program at his school in Garden City.
A GoFundMe campaign for Banda’s legal fees had collected more than $44,000 in donations as of Monday evening. Care2, an activist website, also created an online petition for her case, which boasted 140,782 signatures as of Monday.
“We decided it was a very important moment to rally folks around the cruel and unusual thinking around medical marijuana,” said Christopher Burley, senior campaigns manager for Care2.
The petition states: “Don’t let Shona and her son become yet two more victims of the nation’s flawed policy on medical marijuana.”
Burley said Care2 has sent the petition to the Finney County District Attorney’s Office and to the Kansas Department for Children and Families
“This is a case where literally a family is being destroyed,” Burley said.
Banda’s son is currently living with his father, according to Banda’s attorney.
Susan Richmeier, the Finney County attorney, was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment.
How it started
Banda’s 11-year-old son made comments about his mom being an avid marijuana user during a drug education program in March in his fifth-grade class at Bernadine Sitts School.
Banda authored a book titled “Live Free or Die: Reclaim Your Life … Reclaim Your Country!” The book details her experience with Crohn’s disease and using cannabis oil to treat it.
Her son’s comments prompted investigations by the Department for Children and Families and the Garden City Police Department. On March 24, DCF officials interviewed Banda’s son at school and police raided Banda’s home in Garden City, according to an April news release from Garden City police.
Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue said the warrant for Banda’s arrest was issued June 5.
Banda faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if convicted of the charges. Her attorney, Sarah Swain, said she has yet to receive police reports from the March 24 raid but said she expects to receive them during Banda’s first appearance in court Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.
Garden City police did not respond to requests for police reports regarding her case.
Finney County Jail records show Banda was booked into jail at 2:30 p.m. Monday and released at 4:03 p.m. the same day after posting a $50,000 bond.
Banda faces five charges, according to her booking report. Three are felonies: possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of school property, unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia to cultivate less than five plants. The other two charges are misdemeanors: endangering a child and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Roy Cessna, spokesman for Garden City Public Schools, said the program was presented to the fifth-grade class on March 13, which is when Banda’s son made remarks about his mother’s cannabis use. Cessna said it was a counseling program against drug use that all classes in the school received.
Cessna said the district followed mandatory reporting laws when the incident occurred and said the school district worked with police during their investigation. He said he couldn’t give further information about the district’s involvement in the case.
When police searched Banda’s home on March 24, officers found approximately 1.25 pounds of marijuana along with paraphernalia and a lab to make cannabis oil, according to the release from the police department.
“The items taken from the residence were within easy reach of the child,” the release stated.
The marijuana and other items found tested positive for THC and were sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for more testing, the release said
Swain, Banda’s lawyer, said she plans to defend Banda’s case with two strategies: attack the constitutionality of how officials obtained evidence in Banda’s case, and attack the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug.
A Garden City police news release said that when officers went to Banda’s house, she denied them access. The officers then secured the residence and stayed on the property until the search warrant was granted, to prevent destruction of evidence.
Swain said she thinks authorities violated Banda’s constitutional rights during the raid and during their interview with her son. She said authorities needed Banda’s permission before speaking with her son and that officers should have had a search warrant before they came to Banda’s home.
“If the search warrant and questioning are ruled constitutionally valid, that’s when we would get to the Schedule I argument,” Swain said.
Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug, alongside ecstasy, heroin and LSD.
“In order for something to be a Schedule I drug, there has to be no medicinal benefits,” Swain said. “We not only know it has medicinal benefits, but it actually can cure diseases, including Crohn’s disease.”
She said Crohn’s disease “was totally debilitating” for Banda and that marijuana gave her relief from its side effects. Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever and weight loss.
“They seem determined to shatter Shona’s family and sacrifice her health to enforce these insane drug laws,” Burley, from Care2, said in a statement.