A Garden City, Kansas, woman whose home was raided March 24 after her son took issue with an anti-marijuana presentation at school turned herself in Monday at the Finney County Law Enforcement Center.
Shona Banda, 38, was booked into jail and later released after posting $50,000 bond. Her attorney, Sarah Swain, of Lawrence, said Banda was charged with five counts—four of them marijuana-related—plus endangering a child. If convicted on all of them, she faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.
“This is a woman who was using cannabis to treat a disease, Crohn’s disease, that was absolutely debilitating,” Swain said. “So, not only is it that she’s facing life imprisonment just due to the years, but essentially it’s a death sentence.”
Swain said cannabis oil cured Banda of her Crohn’s disease.
“She was in and out of hospitals. She had multiple surgeries. It was absolutely debilitating, and all of that would be present in her medical records,” Swain said. “The same records would show that once she started using cannabis oil, almost all of the conditions that she was suffering from — her inability to maintain weight, the chronic pain that she was in — all of those things essentially disappeared with her use of cannabis oil.”
Swain is concerned that Banda will die if she goes to prison and can’t get that treatment. According to Swain, Banda has been without the oil since her home was raided.
“It is medicine, and she has already lost a dramatic amount of weight since she has not been using it,” Swain said. “She has had to have oral surgery due to some infections in her mouth that were kept at bay when she was using cannabis oil, but have now come back. So, her health is not good, and I think it will only continue to deteriorate as this case drags on.”
Swain’s ultimate goal is to stop marijuana from being classified as a Schedule I drug.
“It’s our goal with this case to not just change the way that Shona Banda is treated here in Garden City, Kansas, but to take this case every step of the way to litigate it all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, if we need to, to make sure that this drug is no longer classified as a Schedule I drug,” Swain said. “And as soon as it’s classified as something less than that, millions of people’s lives will be positively affected by that change.”
Schedule I drugs, by definition, have no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. Swain said there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of studies that show that cannabis does have value as a medicine. She said there has never been a confirmed death attributed to marijuana toxicity, which is not the case for many legal drugs — even aspirin.
A news release from the Garden City Police Department last April said officers found more than a pound of “suspected marijuana” in the search of Banda’s home. According to the police, Banda’s 11-year-old son told school officials that his mother and other adults in his residence were avid drug users and that there was a lot of drug use in his residence. School officials relayed the concern to the Kansas Department for Children and Families. The department reported it to the police, who then secured a search warrant.
Swain said Banda had openly told her children that she believed her cannabis oil was more effective and safer than most of the prescriptions she had been given for her Crohn’s disease.
“My understanding is that, in this discussion of the evils of marijuana that was taking place at school, her son simply said, ‘No, I disagree with what you’re saying about that plant,’ and things snowballed from there,” Swain said.
Swain questions the constitutionality of the way the information was gathered, how the search warrant was prepared and the eventual search of the house. She vowed to “litigate all of those issues fully.”
Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier did not respond to a message seeking comment about the case. The police department referred all inquiries to the County Attorney.
Meanwhile, an online petition started by two friends of Banda has picked up more than 140,000 signatures asking that she be shown mercy. Chris Burley, senior campaigns manager for the petition site, Care2, drove from Denver with copies of the petition.
“These messages have been sent electronically already to no response from the Finney County prosecutor,” Burley said. “The Department of (sic) Children and Families has not responded to these public comments, and when we elevated the issue to Governor Brownback’s office, that was also met with sort of tired and deafening silence. So I drove out here from Colorado to make sure that somebody saw these, and understood that there are more than 140,000 people from all 50 states, from 212 countries, who are standing with Shona, and who are standing against cruel drug prosecution.”
Burley, who grew up in Winfield, said his own mother relied upon medical marijuana for relief as she was dying of colon cancer.
“The only way that she was able to maintain an appetite through the final months of her life was through marijuana. And the fact that we have laws on the books now that would say that my dying mother, who was a school teacher who helped so many young lives, would go to prison simply because she was trying to ease her suffering, and trying to stay alive for her family and for those children, is unconscionable,” Burley said.
Burley said the latest Pew Research poll on the issue reported that 53 percent of Americans favor unconditional legalization of marijuana — not just medicinal marijuana. Burley said this is now the mainstream view.
Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.