Shona Banda, a local medicinal marijuana advocate facing drug and child endangerment charges, pleaded not guilty to all charges against her Friday during an arraignment and pretrial conference that included testimony from two prospective witnesses well-known in the field of medical cannabis.
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, entered her plea in Finney County District Court before Chief District Judge Wendel Wurst.
Banda appeared with her attorney, Kenneth B. Miller of Wichita, as well as Stacie Swanson-Crass, a member of The Human Solution International (THIS) advocacy group for the legalization of cannabis.
Assistant Finney County attorneys Will Votypka and Nick Vrana represented the state.
Banda’s charges stem from an investigation by the Department of Children and Families and the Garden City Police Department that led to the search of Banda’s home in March 2015 and the seizure of suspected marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
The investigation 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.
Banda, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, is well known for her use of cannabis oil for treatment of her condition, as well as her belief in the benefits of such treatment. Her case has garnered national attention and calls to decriminalize medical marijuana in Kansas.
While no pretrial motions were filed Friday, Dr. David Allen, a medical doctor, and Dr. Robert Melamede, a Ph.D. biologist, both testified via telecommunication devices in a bid to be allowed as expert defense witnesses in Banda’s upcoming trial, scheduled for June 26 through 29.
Allen described himself as a board-certified general and cardiovascular surgeon. He said he considers himself a cannabinoid research scientist and claims to be “a professor in the science of the endocannabinoid signaling system.”
Melamede said he taught the world’s only college course on endocannabinoids and medical marijuana while serving as chairman of the biology department at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He is also the co-founder of a public company called Cannabis Science that works to utilize cannabis-based medicines to control HIV and various other viral infections. He no longer works for the company.
Both doctors said they have never been disqualified from testimonial as an expert witness. Allen said he has testified in as many as five trials as an expert witness in California, and Melamede previously testified in Banda’s child in need of care case, which she won.
Allen said that as a general surgeon he was responsible for general surgery, including bowel surgeries conducted in response to complications from Crohn’s disease.
He noted that he has a 1.4 percent operative mortality rate, meaning very few of the patients he has operated on have died, even those who were in critical condition at the time of operation.
Cannabis benefits explained
Allen and Melamede both aimed to explain the medical benefits of cannabis in the context of federal illegality. Allen said cannabinoids found in cannabis actually block cancerous and viral cell division and prevent inflammation, such as the kind resultant from Crohn’s disease, which Banda says she was treating with marijuana at the time of her arrest.
Discussing the discovery of the cannabinoid system in the human body, Allen said the ECS is largely responsible for homeostasis, which he described as “the ability to stay away from death.”
“Marijuana mimics the chemicals that your body produces,” he said, “so basically the chemicals that are in cannabis are like vitamins that augment the naturally occurring system that keeps you away from death.”
Allen said he conducted a study of 157 medical schools in the U.S. and found that only 13 percent of American medical schools teach or even mention the ECS to medical students, “so the majority of doctors that are taught medicine have no idea about the ECS, and this is similar to doctors not knowing about the nervous system.”
Allen explained the continuing research into the medical benefits of marijuana has been hampered by regulation and the illegality of the drug on the federal level. He noted that the U.S. has a patent — patent 6,630,507 — for cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants, which he says proves that the federal government recognizes the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
“The U.S. patent is the keeper of truth in the United States,” he said. “They cannot print one word in any patent that is untrue. Everything in the patent has to be proven by the patent office to be completely correct.”
Allen also said cannabis is “safer than table salt and water.” He noted that after reviewing Banda’s medical records and interviewing her, he believes her disease progressed after her arrest due to limited cannabis use, resulting in a surgery that could have ended her life.
“She’s using a medicine that works for her, and she’s experienced in it,” Allen said. “And it was the only option she had because the pharmaceutical option was not working for her, so this was the only option that offered her relief, and made it a medical necessity. That’s my opinion."
Votypka indicated that Allen is not currently a practicing medical doctor or surgeon, to which Allen clarified that he is retired. Votypka also noted that Allen’s retirement was “forced” by the Medical Board of California, which suspended his license for 90 days after an administrative judge found that he had violated a standard of care by prescribing cannabis when it was not supported by a clear diagnosis.
Allen rebutted that it is illegal to prescribe cannabis, adding that four doctors after him approved cannabis use for the patient whose case came into question during the board’s finding.
Allen admitted to being a marijuana advocate, and said the science of cannabis is being suppressed by the legal system.
Melamede said Banda has demonstrated the success of cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties.
“Shona is the evidence you’re looking for,” Melamede said in response to a question about the proven use of cannabis as a treatment for Crohn’s disease.
Melamede called marijuana laws in the U.S. “stupid,” “out of date,” and “based on nothing but ignorance.”
No finding made
Judge Wurst made no finding on whether the two doctors’ testimony would be admissible in Banda’s upcoming trial and called for the pretrial conference to be continued until 1 p.m. May 12, when prosecutors are expected to present their own expert witness.
Banda said after the hearing that she is confident about her case going forward.
“I think the proceedings went very well,” she said. “I think the doctor testimonials both had heavy weight on the court system, and I have full confidence that the judge is going to allow their testimony as experts in the trial.”
Banda filed a lawsuit in March 2016 in federal court in Wichita that named the Garden City Police Department, Garden City USD 456, the State of Kansas, the governor and the DCF, among others. The lawsuit alleged that her rights to use cannabis for medicinal purposes and to maintain custody of her son had been violated. The lawsuit was later dismissed by a federal judge.
Mark Minton can be reached at email@example.com