The Garden City mother who has become a face of the medicinal marijuana legalization movement in Kansas is suing the state and some of the agencies involved in questioning and removing her 11-year-old son from her home last spring after he spoke up about her cannabis use at school.
Shona Banda claims in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, that the state and the agencies are depriving her of her civil rights to treat a debilitating condition she suffers from and to parent her child. She also claims employees at her son’s school and the Garden City Police Department violated her constitutional rights when they questioned her son without parental permission and searched her property without a warrant.
The 20-page suit names the state, Gov. Sam Brownback; Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore; the Garden City Police Department and its chief, James R. Hawkins; and Garden City Unified School District 457 and one of its former counselors, Tyler Stubenhoffer, as defendants.
Banda is demanding payment of an unspecified amount of money for injuries and what she calls ongoing pain and suffering. She asked for a jury to hear the case in Wichita.
Banda filed the lawsuit Thursday, on the one-year anniversary of the police raid of her home. She was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.
Asked for comment on the lawsuit, DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed pointed to the agency’s mission to “protect children, promote healthy families and encourage personal responsibility.” She said DCF recommends children be removed from their homes when serious safety issues exist but not solely for marijuana use.
“The court has final say regarding placement of children,” Freed said in an e-mailed statement. “Marijuana is an illegal substance in the state of Kansas. It can have both direct and indirect detrimental consequences on families.”
Spokespeople for Garden City public schools and Brownback’s office said both said they do not comment on pending litigation. The Garden City Police Department did not return a phone call seeking comment about the lawsuit.
Banda, 38, is a marijuana advocate and author of “Live Free or Die: Reclaim Your Life … Reclaim Your Country.” The book recounts her use of cannabis oil to treat Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that can lead to life-threatening complications.
The story of her son’s removal from her home last year sparked national and international attention and calls to decriminalize medical marijuana use in Kansas.
She is acting as her own attorney in the federal case, according to court records.
Banda’s 11-year-old son was removed from her custody after he made comments about her using cannabis during a drug education program at his school on March 13, 2015. The subsequent search of her property by Garden City police on March 24, 2015, yielded 1.25 pounds of marijuana, cannabis oil and other drug-related items.
Authorities, in a police affidavit released last year, said the boy told school officials his mother and other adults in the house were avid drug users, including his older brother and the brother’s live-in girlfriend. The boy also knew in great detail how to turn marijuana into cannabis oil and said the drugs were within his reach, the affidavit says.
Banda’s federal lawsuit says her children were aware that she uses cannabis to treat Crohn’s disease and that she educated them about the substance, as well as “cautioned her 11-year-old that it is a medication.” At no time did she allow her younger son to use it, the lawsuit says.
Banda has been charged in Finney County District Court with three felonies and two misdemeanors connected to her marijuana use: possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of school property, unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia to cultivated less than five plants, possession of drug paraphernalia and child endangerment. Adjudication of that case is pending.
She faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
The lawsuit claims that “emerging awareness” of the medicinal uses of cannabis and its perceived benefits, as well as pending and enacted legislation in most states, has given patients a fundamental right to use it to “alleviate excruciating pain and discomfort” from medical conditions.
“Subjecting her (Banda) to up to thirty ... years in prison for using a plant that has been shown in studies to significantly reduce the symptoms and pain associated with Crohn’s Disease when no other prescription drug or remedy has been effective in doing so objectively shocks the conscience of any reasonable person,” the lawsuit says.