During a rally Monday at Stevens Park, people from near and far came to show support for Shona Banda, an advocate of medicinal marijuana now fighting for custody of her son.
Julie Yell, a board member and regional director of the Arkansas Medical Cannibas Act, and her husband, Ty Yell, traveled to Garden City from Arkansas to support Banda, a Garden City woman whose 11-year-old son was placed into police protective custody by the Department of Children and Families.
Garden City police seized 1 1/4 pounds of marijuana and drug paraphernalia from Banda’s home in March.
“I believe this tactic is being used on cannabis medical patients all across the U.S.,” Julie Yell said. “And I believe that the show of support here today is a testament that we are willing to do what it takes to stand up against that particular type of action. I believe that the power rests in people who are standing here today that are willing to support this cause and causes like it.”
The search of Banda’s home, Garden City police say, was conducted after her son told Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center employees during a drug and alcohol education program at the school on March 24 that there was regular drug usage occurring in his residence.
The boy was placed into the custody of his father, who is separated from Banda, on March 27, and then taken back into protective custody on Thursday.
During a child-in-need-of-care proceeding in the case Monday in Finney County District Court, Yell and approximately 50 others gathered at Stevens Park to stage a protest about Banda’s case, which has garnered national attention and debate about whether medicinal marijuana should be legalized.
Jacquelyn Patterson came from San Francisco to attend the rally because she said she has been in a similar situation.
“I lost custody of one of my children because I’m a medical cannabis patient advocate, and I use cannabis personally because I have cerebral palsy and chronic pain,” Patterson said, adding that cannabis has helped her improve a speech impediment.
David Auble, of Paradise, organized the rally through a Facebook page called Rally to Support Shona Banda and her child because he believes both of their rights have been violated.
“The reason we’re helping Shona is the violation of the civil rights of her child, and it was not a proper warrant because the warrant was based on the violation of the child’s civil rights,” Auble said in an interview Friday.
That was the sentiment of many on hand at Monday’s rally.
Luiz Orozco, Garden City, said he believes the fact that Banda’s son was interviewed without his parents present was a violation of his civil rights.
“The school and our local powers that be have gone about this, I believe, completely wrong, without informing his parents, whether it be his mom or his dad, who are separated. And they didn’t go through the proper channels to get the right information,” Orozco said.
As for the rally itself, Orozco said it wasn’t about marijuana or cannabis reform but civil rights.
“It’s about Shona and her child, and that’s what we’re here to support,” Orozco said.
Derek Releford, Garden City, said he attended the rally as a parent.
“I don’t really see this as a pot issue, I see it as a parent issue,” Releford said. “I don’t think her child was in danger. So I’m here because I feel like she needs to have her child back.”
In an interview with The Telegram prior to Monday’s hearing, Banda said that after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2001, she underwent several surgeries in an effort to treat the disease.
“I’ve had over 16 surgeries. I’ve had every organ taken out that you can take out and still survive. I still have both of my kidneys. I still have my liver, but I am down to just three inches of my colon,” Banda said. “And now I’m living.”
And she attributes that to cannabis oil, advocating its use through a book she wrote titled, “Live Free or Die.” She also has 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.
Ty Yell said he had a similar experience after he began using cannabis oil to treat his Crohn’s disease.
“It allowed me to eat. Nausea was no longer an issue,” Ty Tell said, adding that when his symptoms were at their worst, he dropped 60 pounds in 30 or 40 days, but that he didn’t experience that after using cannabis oil. “I was taking 176 pills a week, and now I don’t take any.”
Banda said since having the cannibas oil confiscated March 24, her own health has declined.
“I have lost about 10 pounds in the last month that I can’t afford to lose. I was really happy because I had gotten up to 120, and I recently had an injury to my leg and had to go to my hospital to get a blood clot checked, and I weighed 112 pounds,” Banda said. “But it doesn’t matter at this point. It just does not matter because I have a right to live just like anyone, and I have a right to be here and raise my children, just like anyone else.”
District Magistrate Judge Richard Hodson did not make a custody ruling during Monday’s hearing, but did place a gag order on the proceedings and all subsequent hearings in the child-in-need-of-care case.
According to Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier, an emergency custody hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. today.
Garden City Police wrapped up a criminal investigation of the case Monday and forwarded it to the Finney County Attorney’s Office for review. Police are seeking possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, felony possession of drug paraphernalia, misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and endangering a child charges against Banda. No arrests have been made.
Richmeier said her office will review the reports and upon determining if a violation of the law occurred, file charges accordingly.