A Finney County judge on Tuesday ruled that a Garden City medicinal marijuana advocate facing various drug charges is mentally competent to stand trial.
Shona Banda, who 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, will appear before Chief District Judge Wendel Wurst at 9 a.m. April 7 for arraignment and pretrial motions.
Banda appeared in court on Tuesday with counsel Kenneth B. Miller of Wichita-based Miller Law Kansas; Stacie Swanson-Crass, a member of The Human Solution International (THSI) advocacy group for the legalization of cannabis; and her oldest son, Joshua Banda.
Wurst began the hearing by examining a written evaluation of Banda’s mental competency submitted by Compass Behavioral Health Services.
Wurst said that according to the memo, Banda was evaluated on Jan. 5 and was deemed able to proceed to trial, according to a report filed Thursday.
Wurst then ruled that Banda would stand trial and set her trial dates for June 26 to 29.
Wurst said all pretrial motions and expert witness requests must be submitted by March 3 and ruled that expert testimony could be conducted via video.
Banda released public defender Ron Evans from his service, and officially took Miller as her defense attorney. Miller was appointed to her legal team earlier this month with donations from supporters and the general public.
“I wasn’t surprised by the findings of today’s hearing at all,” Banda said after the hearing. “I was completely confident in my competence. I am absolutely excited to be able to bring in Kenneth Miller from Wichita onto the case. That will allow Michael Minardi from Florida to come in pro hac vice. I’m pretty confident taking this case to trial that we’ll win.”
After the hearing, Miller spoke confidently about taking over Banda’s case.
“The court found that Shona was competent, which anybody that’s ever met her could have told you,” Miller said. “We look forward to our day in court.”
In November, Wurst granted a motion by Evans requesting that a mental competency evaluation be performed on Banda to determine if she was competent to stand trial. At the time, Banda said in court that she was agreeable to the evaluation, but said after Tuesday’s hearing that the request was made when she was “very ill” and that the blood supply to her brain was being impeded by her endometriosis, a condition she said she struggles with.
“Because the state took my medicine back in March, I wasn’t able to get my body back into balance,” Banda after the hearing. “I had an overgrowth of progesterone. I had an ovary regrow, which isn’t supposed to be possible. Because my hormones were off, it allowed the endometriosis to come back into my body and allowed the scar tissue to overgrow up by my diaphragm and major blood vessels.”
Banda said she had surgery in October to remedy the condition.
Minardi of Minardi Law in Florida will join Miller as co-counsel. Minardi is well known for arguing cases that have resulted in acquittals and reduced plea bargains in Florida, where cannabis is illegal medically and recreationally, just as it is in Kansas.
Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier issued a statement days before the hearing that said Banda has made numerous motions and changes in counsel since the preliminary hearing was waived in November 2015, extending the judicial process and delaying the arraignment.
The statement said Banda has no previous criminal history and could face up to 17 years in prison for distribution or possession and unlawful manufacturing charges, both of which are level two drug felonies.
Richmeier’s statement also noted that the Kansas Legislature took up the issue of medical marijuana sentencing with regard to crimes involving marijuana in 2016.
“To date, the Legislature has not changed the law regarding the legality of marijuana in the state of Kansas — leaving possession, manufacture and distribution of marijuana statutes intact — even for medical reasons,” Richmeier said. “The Legislature did lessen the penalty for possession of marijuana, but did not change the law or penalty for manufacture or distribution.”
Banda’s charges stem from an investigation by the Department of Children and Families and Garden City police. Authorities searched Banda’s home in March 2015 and seized suspected marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
The intervention was spurred by comments made at school by her then 11-year-old son. According to police, her son said his mother and other adults in his home were avid users of marijuana and that there was a lot of marijuana use in his home. The state removed Banda’s son from her custody after the investigation.
A victim of Crohn’s disease, Banda is well known for her use of cannabis oil for treatment of her condition. She authored a book on the subject, titled “Live Free or Die,” where many details about her lifestyle are articulated.
She also has appeared in YouTube videos and online articles, espousing belief in the medicinal benefits of cannabis oil. The story of her son’s removal from her home in 2015 garnered national attention and calls to decriminalize medical marijuana in Kansas.
In March 2016, Banda filed a lawsuit in federal court in Wichita naming the Garden City Police Department, Garden City USD 457, the State of Kansas, the governor and the DCF, among others, alleging that her rights to use cannabis for medicinal purposes and to maintain custody of her son had been violated.
In late December, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.