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After State Takes Child, Kansas Woman Is At Center Of National Marijuana Debate

By Donald Bradley, The Kansas City Star (TNS)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — 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, Russiam 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.

Banda said she started using medical marijuana about five years ago for Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. The condition can lead to life-threatening complications.

Before starting with the marijuana, she said, she walked with a cane and often couldn’t get off the couch.

Banda does not say marijuana can help everyone, but in her case the pain greatly diminished, allowing her to return to work and ride bikes with her son.

“Sure, I talked to him about it (marijuana),” Banda said.

Authorities talked to the boy after the incident at school. Swain says they interrogated the fifth-grader without parental consent, which she contends is unconstitutional.

“They talked to him for more than an hour,” Banda said.

There’s no question that public sentiment toward marijuana has changed greatly in recent years.

Voters in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and the District of Columbia approved recreational marijuana. Another 20 or so states have medical marijuana.

More states, including California, are expected to put issues on the ballot this year.

Also, many health and medical organizations, such as the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association, have softened views on marijuana and called for more research. A derivative called “Charlotte’s Web” is increasingly being used for child seizure disorder.

The Epilepsy Foundation “supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana.”

But the federal government still lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin and LSD. The designation means it has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse.

President Barack Obama recently voiced support for medical marijuana. And, according to the Pew Institute, 53 percent of Americans now favor medical marijuana.

Sublett said, the Banda case would almost be funny if it was not so traumatizing to a family.

“The question to Kansans is, ‘Are you OK with your tax dollars being spent on this?'” Sublett said. “This woman goes to bed at night without her son because she had some marijuana in her house when it’s legal in half the country — are you OK with that?”

Voth rejects all the recent developments as misguided. He says the push for legal pot overlooks health risks in favor of money. Medical marijuana has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The public has been heavily manipulated into approving these measures,” Voth said. “I’m very worried about the real science being overlooked.”

For now, Banda waits for news from Finney County. She said her business is off because people are afraid to come for a massage. Especially, she said, after two men barged in one day and quickly left.

“I had an 80-year-old naked Mennonite woman on the table,” Banda said. “She could have had a heart attack.”

Banda and Swain do not know who the men were.

Swain, of Lawrence, said life is tough right now on Banda.

“She’s giving her life to this and we’re going to fight this until we win,” she said.

For Banda, happiness won’t come with winning a court case.

“I’ll be happy when I get my son back,” she said.

(c)2015 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Shona Banda is a mother from Garden City, Kan., who has been thrust into the national spotlight in the country’s debate over marijuana, on April 27, 2015. Already an activist because medical marijuana treatment for her Crohn’s Disease, Banda’s 11-year-old son was taken by state authorities after he made comments at school about the health benefits of marijuana. (Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/TNS)

Marijuana Bill Gains Steam In Senate

By Hannah Hess, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When it comes to pot, political winds may be shifting in the Senate.

Joining a new generation of senators such as Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), veteran Democrat Barbara Boxer has added her name to a bill rolled out March 10 aimed at protecting state medical marijuana operations from federal interference while rescheduling the drug.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley did not rule out taking up the legislation in his committee, and one of the Iowa Republican’s allies in the war on drugs said she is reviewing the measure.

“I think states can do what states can do. I think the federal law is another thing, and, you know I just hate to see this because there’s marijuana, then there’s marijuana,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), when asked by CQ Roll Call whether her views on pot had evolved in light of President Barack Obama’s recent suggestion that Congress and states might make progress on decriminalizing marijuana and rescheduling the drug.

“There’s very strong marijuana, and there’s marijuana that isn’t. And then there’s marijuana that may be medically beneficial, and this is what we are trying to pursue,” Feinstein said.

Grassley and Feinstein have written letters to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services on the subject of expanding medical research of marijuana, but they received conflicting responses from the agencies. Feinstein said the pair is exploring options, and said she believes scientific, medical analysis of cannabidiol — in isolation from marijuana — is a necessary next step.

“It’s a matter of what are our priorities,” Grassley said on the subject of holding a hearing for the medical marijuana bill. He cited juvenile justice changes and patent trolling as top issues. He also said setting the agenda is a matter of reaching bipartisan agreement, and he has not given any thought to the proposal.

Do Obama’s comments increase pressure on Congress to address pot? “Absolutely not,” Grassley told CQ Roll Call.

But fellow Judiciary Committee Republican Jeff Flake disagreed.

“I think it does increase the pressure,” the Arizona senator said. “He’s probably right, you know, if you get to a majority of the states that are doing it, then people are going to say, ‘What’s Congress going to do? How can these states act in ways that are not congruent with federal law?’ So, I think he’s right, but I’m not saying where it will go. … There will be more pressure here.”

The bill has also picked up a GOP co-sponsor. Nevada’s Dean Heller announced his support last week, stating, “The time has come for the federal government to stop impeding the doctor-patient relationship in states that have decided their own medical marijuana policies.”

When asked if there’s momentum to change marijuana policy, Heller told CQ Roll Call, “It’s a reform. … (Those) take time.”

Still, advocates are pleased to see the Senate legislation gaining headwinds.

“It’s great to see longtime drug warriors starting to come around on this issue a bit,” said Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, citing polling in support of legalization and decriminalization.

“Lawmakers have no choice but to get on board or get left behind. If this bill gets brought to a vote by leadership, it’s nearly certain to pass.”

Boxer spokesman Zachary Coile said in an email the senator is a “strong supporter of California’s medical marijuana law and she believes that patients, doctors and caregivers in states like California should be able to follow state law without fear of federal prosecution.”

Last year, Boxer expressed concern about a House-backed amendment, supported by Booker and Paul, that barred the Justice Department from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized it. At the time, she feared it might prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from going after “rogue operators.”

Unlike the provision included in the final “cromnibus” agreement — set to expire at the end of this fiscal year — the language in the latest medical marijuana bill stipulates it would eliminate potential federal prosecution only for those acting in compliance with state law. In other words, police and prosecutors could still target the illegal drug rings that concern Boxer.

To be sure, some senators aren’t budging.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who reflects proudly on his efforts to fight the war on drugs as a U.S. attorney in the 1980s, said he thinks the president has made a “very serious error” with past statements that undermine the societal interest in controlling illegal drug use.

“I think we should be very cautious before we … move forward with the medical marijuana issue,” Sessions said of the latest medical marijuana legislation, “because I think that the pro-legalization advocates have always seen that as getting a foot in the door.”

Photo: Dank Depot via Flickr