As she approached the Finney County Sheriff’s Office Monday, Shona Banda, the local medicinal marijuana advocate who gained national attention after the state took custody of her son, was surrounded by supporters, including Jennifer Winn, the Republican candidate who challenged Gov. Sam Brownback in last August’s primary.
Banda, accompanied by her attorney Sarah Swain and several others, turned herself in at the Law Enforcement Center at 2 p.m. Monday. Several local media outlets gathered outside along with other supporters.
Banda was charged June 5 with endangering a child, distribution or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of school property, unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Three of the charges are felonies and Banda faces a potential sentence of 11 to 17 years.
Following her client’s surrender, Swain held a press conference where she fielded questions about the case, Banda’s health, and the status of the child-in-need-of-care custody case involving her 11-year-old son.
Swain believes the combination of charges, because of their respective severity levels, could land Banda in jail for more than 30 years if she is convicted and sentenced.
“If she is sent to prison and does not have access to the treatment that she was using that cured her of her Crohn’s disease and allowed her to live a somewhat normal life, it’s absolutely the equivalent of her being sentenced to death,” Swain said.
Banda became a well-known local figure for her use of cannabis oil in treating Crohn’s disease and authored a book on the subject titled, ‘Live Free or Die.’ She has also appeared in YouTube videos and in online articles on www.naturalnews.com, sharing her knowledge of and belief in the medicinal benefits of cannabis oil.
Swain said Banda’s health has been deteriorating without cannabis oil, citing a dramatic weight loss and a need for oral surgery to address mouth infections that were held at bay when she used cannabis oil.
“So her health is not good. And I think it will only continue to deteriorate as this case drags on and as we take the time necessary to really fight it and fully litigate all of these issues,” Swain said.
Swain had no information about the status of Banda’s son’s case because Banda is being represented by a different attorney on that matter. She said Banda’s son is still in state custody.
Swain also said Kansas should stop classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug like cocaine and methamphetamines.
Schedule 1 drugs are drugs classified as having no medicinal benefits, Swain said, adding that it is been well-established that marijuana has been found to be effective in treating cancer, Crohn’s disease and seizures.
“The fact that this country continues the war on drugs, which is really just a war on families and a war on the poor, is absolutely ridiculous,” Swain said.
Swain said her goal is to not just change the way Banda is treated in Garden City, but to take the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary to change the way marijuana is categorized.
Jennifer Winn, the Republican candidate who lost the Republican primary to Gov. Sam Brownback last August, traveled from Wichita to show her support for Banda.
“I’m hoping that Sarah, alongside Shona — and once the facts are truly all presented — that we can actually challenge the constitutionality of this prohibition in its entirety,” Winn said.
Christopher Burley, Care2 Senior Campaigns Manager, traveled from Colorado to support Banda.
Care2 is an online petition set up by friends of Banda’s, Jessica and Terri Boone, urging local law enforcement and DCF officials to waive charges against Banda and return her son.
“These messages have been been sent electronically already to no response from the Finney County prosecutor. The Department of Children and Families have not responded to these public comments,” Burley said, adding that it had also been forwarded to Gov. Brownback’s office, but that there had been no response.
Banda posted $50,000 bond on Monday. Swain credited a gofundme account, a fundraising website established on behalf of Banda, for helping to raise money for the bond.
“And I would encourage people to continue to show their support of her by continuing to donate to the gofundme,” Swain said.
According to Swain, Banda’s first appearance is scheduled at 8:30 a.m. this morning at the Law Enforcement Center.
Swain expects to have access to all police reports and discovery materials after Banda’s first appearance.
“I will be able to start reviewing all of that and formulating my strategy for defending her in court,” Swain said.
The drug investigation involving Banda and her son resulted from comments Banda’s son made during a drug education program held March 24 at his school, Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center, that led to the Department of Children and Families and Garden City Police Department being contacted.
According to police, the boy said his mother and other adults were avid drug users and that there was a lot of drug use occurring in his residence. That led police to suspect drugs were present in the home.
Officers and DCF officials went to Banda’s home the same day and Banda initially denied them consent to search the residence.
After getting a search warrant, police found 1.25 pounds of marijuana in plant, oil, joint, gel and capsule form and drug paraphernalia in the home. Officers also found a lab used for manufacturing cannabis oil.
All of the items were within reach of the child, police said, prompting law enforcement and DCF officials to remove the boy from the home.
Banda’s son initially was placed in the custody of his father, who is separated from Banda. He was later put into protective custody on April 16. District Magistrate Judge Richard Hodson put a gag order on any and all proceedings in the child-in-need-of-care case.