No decision has been made on whether a local advocate of medicinal marijuana, or cannabis, will retain custody of her 11-year-old son, who was placed into protective custody after police seized marijuana and drug paraphernalia from her home in March.
Garden City police, however, have completed an investigation of the boy’s mother, Shona Banda, 37, 901 Conkling Ave., and announced Monday that they are seeking to charge her with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, felony possession of drug paraphernalia, misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and endangering a child. No arrests have been made in the case.
Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier has yet to make a decision on whether to file those charges against Banda, an advocate and motivational speaker who previously authored a book about the healing benefits of cannabis oil after having used it to treat her Crohn’s disease.
Police say the drug investigation and child-in-need-of-care case came about as a result of comments the boy made during a drug education program March 24 at his school, Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center, that concerned some teachers and counselors.
Police became suspicious that there might be drugs in Banda’s home after being contacted by the Department of Children and Families, which had been contacted by school officials. Under Kansas’ mandatory reporting statute, all public schools are required to report to DCF or law enforcement when it is believed a child might be in danger.
Officers and DCF officials went to Banda’s home that day, where Banda initially denied them consent to search the residence. After securing a search warrant, police found marijuana in plant, oil, joint, gel and capsule form, as well as drug paraphernalia, in the home.
The boy initially was placed in the custody of his father, who is separated from Banda, and then put into protective custody on Thursday.
Monday’s child-in-need-of-care proceeding was a first appearance in the case, with District Magistrate Judge Richard Hodson presiding. While no custody ruling was made, the judge did place a gag order on the proceedings and all subsequent hearings in the child-in-need-of-care (CINC) case.
“Today, the court said you can’t be videoing and posting stuff out there,” Richmeier said, referring to the ruling that parties involved in the custody hearing cannot post any information about the CINC proceedings on social media sites, or speak about the proceedings to anyone outside of the attorneys involved in the case.
“When the court does those things, it’s not to put a gag order on the mother, but to protect the privacy of the child,” she said. “It’s not about the mom, it’s not about us, it’s about protecting the privacy of this child.”
Richmeier said an emergency custody hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 1 p.m. in district court, but added that the judge won’t necessarily rule on custody then, either.
“Any time we have these cases, he will most likely make a determination but he could say, ‘I’m going to take it under advisement and I’ll let you know on Monday.’ So he could do any number of things,” Richmeier said.
The boy will remain in protective custody until the judge rules on the case.
In announcing their intent to seek charges against Banda, police on Monday also provided more details about what her son said during the drug education program on March 24.
According to police, Banda’s son reported that his mother and other adults in his residence were avid drug users and that there was a lot of drug use occurring in his residence.
That led to the search warrant, Ralston said.
During the search, officers located approximately 1 1/4 pounds of marijuana, a lab used for manufacturing cannabis oil, drug paraphernalia and other items related to the packaging and ingestion of marijuana — all of which was within reach of the child, Ralston said.
He said police and DCF officials felt the boy needed to be removed from the home.
“We just felt that was not a safe environment for the child to be in,” Ralston said. “Along with DCF, we came to that conclusion together.”
Banda defends her usage of medicinal marijuana, which she prefers to call cannabis.
“I found how to make oil as my vaporizer, and within three days, I didn’t need use of my cane to walk, I was no longer bedridden and the healing was so profound,” Banda said in an interview Thursday with The Telegram.
Banda said she has continued treating herself with cannabis and has been an activist for the legalization of medicinal marijuana, appearing in YouTube videos and in online articles on www.naturalnews.com, and sharing her knowledge of and belief in its medicinal benefits.
“I’ve been working hard to bring legitimacy to this plant on the true medical side and bring forth the awareness of full plant medicine,” Banda said in last week’s interview.
She believes the medicinal properties in cannabis exist in other plant life, and that taking an essential oil from a cannabis plant is no different than taking a vitamin or other supplement.
Prior to Monday’s hearing, Banda called what was happening to her and her family as a “huge injustice.”
“No one should have their child taken away for wanting to live. And it’s so very wrong. I just want my son back,” she said.
She said she believes her rights are being violated.
“I’ve been doing this for years, and this is a blatant infringement on my beliefs, through my child, which is the lowest thing I’ve ever heard of,” she said in the Thursday interview with The Telegram.
A video shot by Banda on March 24 showing officers and DCF agents at her home prior to authorities obtaining and serving a search warrant was posted on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites prior to Monday’s court gag order. In the video, Banda questions the officers and DCF agents’ right to deny her access to her home while they were waiting to obtain a search warrant.
Banda would not comment about the video Monday, saying it speaks for itself.
Ralston said it is standard practice to deny access to a home or automobile in order to prevent destruction of evidence prior to service of a search warrant.
“That’s under the Carroll Doctrine actually, one of the exceptions to a search warrant,” he said.
In the video, officers are seen in Banda’s fenced backyard, prompting her to challenge them for being on her property without a warrant. When one of the officers said they can be there because it’s public property, Banda replies, “Here’s the thing. The public is not allowed to be in my backyard.”
But Ralston said that, too, is legal.
“If they’re securing the residence, they can,” Ralston said, adding that officers may legally secure any area surrounding the property. “They just cannot enter into the residence.”