Medical marijuana advocate Shona Banda was sentenced on Friday to 12 months of mail-in probation after being convicted in August of possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to manufacture, a level-five drug felony, following approval of a plea agreement.
Banda appeared in Finney County District Court Friday before 25th Judicial District Chief Judge Wendel Wurst, who sentenced her according to standard sentencing guidelines. Banda will be allowed to check in with her probation officer on a mail-in basis from Spokane, Wash., where she now resides. Should Banda violate her probation, she would serve 11 months in prison and have a post-release supervision period of 12 months.
Banda, who suffers from Crohn's disease, agreed in August to plead no contest to possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to manufacture. In exchange for her plea, the State of Kansas dismissed additional child endangerment and drug charges against her.
Wurst said Friday that Banda’s presentencing report showed no prior criminal history, but Banda acknowledged that she has been a participant in the ongoing fight to legalize medical cannabis nationwide, prior to and during her court proceedings.
“I would like the court to take into consideration that it is very well known that I have tried to change the law nationally and even speaking in my own state capital,” Banda said in reference to laws that render marijuana, a Schedule 1 drug, illegal on the state and federal levels.
“I have done everything I can, and I am asking this court what my recourse would be otherwise because I am now indigent because of the medicine that was stolen from me,” Banda said, in tears and physically shaking. “I was once a functioning member of society and now I am no longer. And according to this country, that is the exact opposite of what we are about, and I would absolutely implore this court to take that into consideration before putting any final sentencing down.”
Banda faces an assortment of fees amounting to $913 that must be paid off within the 12-month time frame of her probation. She can only be exempt from those fees if she proves she is incapable of working and entitled to disability compensation. She said she hasn’t worked since the end of 2015 due to complications from her illness and has been denied disability compensation 14 times.
“I went from being a restaurant manager working 16- to 18-hour days, to becoming a massage therapist working at my own leisure when I could, and now I do not even have the strength,” Banda said. “My life is in your hands, judge.”
Wurst found Banda indigent prior to sentencing and waived fees relative to her court-appointed counsel at the outset of the case. He also declined to assess fees requested by the Garden City Police Department.
Banda is not to violate the law in any way for the duration of her probation; however, Wurst ruled that he would not require her to submit to drug and alcohol evaluations as recommended. He stipulated that Banda is not to possess or consume illegal drugs while on probation, but, “If the drugs are not illegal in Washington, then so be it.” Banda will remain subject to searches by her supervision officer for the duration of her probation.
“I’m not happy having to be punished for trying to save my life, but I have to acknowledge that sometimes the monster is much larger than I am, and I have to know when to fold and that’s what I’m doing,” Banda said after sentencing. “I have to focus on my family and my health, and that’s what I’m going to focus on, my family first and foremost.”
Banda said her youngest son, who was interviewed by Garden City police during their initial investigation in 2015 after he made comments at school during a drug education program that suggested Banda and others in his home were active users of marijuana, is happy. She added that he is “going through a rough time right now,” because he is now old enough to process his role in the investigation and prosecution of his mother.
After Banda’s arrest, her son was placed in his father’s custody, but the Kansas Department of Children and Families later placed him in protective custody before returning him to his father. Banda waived her right to a preliminary hearing in November 2015, when she learned that her son would be called to testify against her. She was allowed to retain custody of her son, who now lives with her in Spokane, and she shares custody with the boy’s father, who remains in Garden City.
Banda is well-known for her use of cannabis oil to treat her Crohn’s disease. She wrote a book on her healing process using cannabis, titled “Live Free or Die,” where she extensively documented the reasoning behind her lifestyle choices. She also has been featured in numerous YouTube videos and online articles, where she espoused her belief in the medicinal benefits of cannabis oil. The story of her son’s removal from her home in 2015 drew national attention and calls to decriminalize medical marijuana in Kansas.
“I wouldn’t be in this situation if my medicine wasn’t taken from me initially,” Banda said. “The courts denying me access to medicine in the future is also a death sentence, and so they have allotted me that courtesy.”
As a coda to her battle with the Kansas court system, Banda apologized for her failure to expose to Kansans what she deems to be the truth about medical cannabis.
“Never stop fighting because the truth really is out there, and someone will force the courts to open their eyes and acknowledge the truth, and I’m so sorry I couldn’t,” she said.
Contact Mark Minton at email@example.com.