Kansas Activist Could Face Felony Charges Because Her 11-Year-Old Son Challenged Anti-Pot Propaganda

Medical marijuana user fights for custody of her son after police find a few ounces of cannabis in her home.



Today Shona Banda, a Kansas medical marijuana activist, faces a hearing at which she will try to stop the state from kidnapping her 11-year-old son. She may also soon face criminal charges that could send her to prison. All because her son dared to question the anti-pot propaganda dispensed by his school.

On March 24, Banda's son spoke up during a "drug education" lesson presented by school counselors, questioning some of their statements about marijuana. Banda, whose story was first reported by The Human Solution International (THSI), a support group for medical marijuana patients, told Ben Swann her son mentioned that she calls the plant "cannabis" and "he let them know how educated he was on the facts." That small act of skepticism resulted in a trip to the principal's office and a call to Child Protective Services, which contacted the police. Banda says her son was questioned "for hours," unbeknownst to her.

It's not clear what information was gleaned from that interrogation, but evidently a judge thought it was enough for a warrant to search Banda's home. Banda says police initially tried to get her consent for a search around 3 p.m. on March 24, then came back with a warrant three hours later. THSI says they found two ounces of marijuana and one ounce of cannabis oil, which Banda uses to relieve the symptoms of Crohn's disease. So far she has not been charged, but at a hearing on March 27 a family court judge awarded temporary custody to her ex-husband, noting that she could face felony charges. Banda worries that the state will try to put her son into foster care by arguing that neither she nor her ex-husband can provide a suitable home.

As the possibility of felony charges suggests, marijuana penalties in Kansas are pretty harsh. Possessing any amount of marijuana (for any purpose) is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. A subsequent offense is a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 months and a maximum of three and a half years. Cultivation of five or more plants is a felony punishable by 12 to 17 years in prison. Manufacturing a controlled substance, which might include production of cannabis oil from marijuana, is also a "drug severity level 1 felony," punishable by a prison sentence as long as 17 years.

Banda told Swann she can't fault her son for having the courage to question inaccurate statements about cannabis. "For him to have spoken up in class I can't be upset about because he hears me daily on the phone talking with people, encouraging people to speak up and speak out," she said. "We did have the talk about how it's not OK to bring this up in Kansas, because it's a different state [than Colorado]. It's very confusing for a child."

Not just for a child. It has always been outrageous to threaten people with jail or loss of their children based on peaceful behavior such as growing a plant. But with marijuana legal for medical use in nearly two dozen states, including four that also have legalized it for recreational use, the injustice is especially glaring.

[via Radley Balko, who notes that Banda's supporters are collecting donations for her legal defense]