Shona Banda says she had a clear choice: Live in misery or use medical marijuana to ease her Crohn’s disease and risk going to jail.
Turned out to be an easy call for the Garden City, Kan., woman. She said her symptoms eased to the point where she could return to work and once again play with her young son.
But she didn’t count on that same son, now 11, speaking out in school recently about the benefits of medical marijuana, including saying that it had saved his mother’s life. School officials contacted police, who searched her house and found marijuana and cannabis oil.
That’s where her old choice took a new turn. Police didn’t take her to jail. Authorities took her son away and put him in protective state custody.
A month ago, Banda, 37, was a massage therapist eking out a living in the back room of a health food store.
Today, her story has gone global. More than 84,000 people have signed an online petition supporting her. Signatures have come from across the country as well as Spain, France, India, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Slovenia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
As prosecutors in Finney County consider charges against Banda, a GoFundMe account has produced nearly $40,000 in donations for her possible legal fight.
Part of the outrage is that had she lived an hour to the west, in Colorado, she would have been perfectly fine having marijuana in the house.
“Them taking her son made Shona the perfect storm,” said Sarah Swain, Banda’s attorney.
Even conservative radio commentator Glenn Beck chimed in, criticizing the “smugness” of the police officers who responded to Banda’s house and even questioning the merit of prosecuting marijuana cases.
Hold on, says Eric Voth, a Topeka physician and longtime marijuana opponent.
“Until all the reports are in, I would urge people to take pause,” Voth said. “I can’t presume to know what happened in this case. I know a lot of people are trying to voice compassion, but when police and child agencies take a kid out of a home, they do so with serious consideration.”
Voth says marijuana has serious toxic and long-term effects, and causes domestic and spousal violence.
Lisa Sublett, who heads the patient advocacy group Bleeding Kansas, thinks charges against Banda could lead to a case that changes Kansas law, perhaps even going to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sounds expensive for a Garden City single mom and massage therapist.
“I think the cannabis movement will make sure she has the money,” Sublett said.
On March 24, Banda arrived home and found two Garden City police officers and two child social workers on her porch. Two more officers were elsewhere on her property.
Banda recorded with her cellphone as she approached the group.
“What are you doing?” she asked the officers. “Why are you on my porch and in my backyard?”
“We got a call from the Department for Children and Families and we need to speak with you,” a female officer said. “Will you give us consent to search your home?”
“No,” Banda answered. She again asked why officers were in her backyard.
“We have a right to be where the public has a right to be,” the female officer said.
“The public does not have a right to be in my backyard,” Banda said.
Police eventually got a warrant, and their search of the house turned up marijuana. They referred the case to the Finney County attorney for possible charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and child endangerment.
Finney County Attorney Susan H. Richmeier did not return a call seeking comment.