Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of stories featuring The Telegram’s top 10 news stories for 2015.
The arrest of Shona Banda, a medicinal marijuana advocate from Garden City, has generated national interest since the issue began back in March.
Banda’s arrest and the surrounding case is the Telegram’s No. 1 local news story for 2015.
Banda’s arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 11. Banda, 38, is charged 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.
The Department of Children and Families and the Garden City police were contacted after Banda ‘s 11-year-old son made comments March 24 during a drug education program at his school, Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center.
According to police, the boy told authorities during a March 24 interview that 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 and to execute a search warrant.
Police searched Banda’s home, 901 Conkling St., and according to an arrest affidavit, “approximately 500 grams of suspected marijuana, multiple marijuana smoking pipes, three ‘vaporizers’ that were actively manufacturing cannabis oil and multiple other items related to packaging and ingestion of marijuana were seized from the residence.”
School officials also contacted the Kansas Department for Children and Families and DCF performed a child welfare check and reported its findings to police in March.
Police opened their own child-in-need-of-care investigation.
Following the search, suspected marijuana and other items found tested positive for THC and were sent to the KBI for more testing. All were within easy reach of the child, police said.
No arrests were made in March, but police completed their investigation and forwarded it to Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier’s office, to determine whether charges would be filed.
Banda was arrested in June after turning herself in.
In the arrest affidavit, the 11-year-old boy told police what was happening at his home.
Banda had made no secret of her cannabis use, touting the plant’s medicinal benefits in a book she wrote, in social media postings and on YouTube.
Her case brought to Kansas a clash that’s also playing out in other states between police and state officials tasked with enforcing anti-drug laws and child protection laws and residents who are convinced marijuana is harmless or even a medical necessity.
Initially, Banda’s son was placed in his father’s custody. The Kansas Department for Children and Families then placed the boy in protective custody on April 16. He is now back in the custody of his father.
In September, Banda and her lawyers threatened to file a lawsuit against the Garden City Police Department, Garden City USD 457, the State of Kansas, the governor and the Kansas Department of Children and Families along with other defendants.
The lawsuit, that has not been filed, was prepared by attorneys for Banda that alleges her rights to use cannabis for medicinal purposes and maintain custody of her son were violated.
At the Nov. 16 preliminary hearing, Banda abruptly stopped it when she learned her son was going to be called to testify.
When the son did not show up for court that day, a bench warrant was issued for the father for not bringing him to court.
Nearly an hour later, authorities learned the boy was in Shona Banda’s custody at the time and that she had dropped him off at school that morning.
Banda was unaware her son was scheduled to testify when she dropped him off at school that morning, Sarah Swain, Banda’s attorney, told the judge.
Knowing her son was going to be called to the witness stand, Banda waived her preliminary hearing saying she did not want to bring him any more harm.
Banda is scheduled to formally enter a plea at her arraignment at noon on Jan. 11.
If she pleads not guilty, Chief District Judge Wendel Wurst will set a trial date in Finney County District Court.