Medical Pot Use Means Mom Faces Losing Son, 30 Years in Prison

Her son told kids at school that she used pot medicinally—now he’s a ward of the state.

Shona Banda. (Image: YouTube)

Jun 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Ali Swenson is an editorial intern at TakePart. She is editor-in-chief of Loyola Marymount University’s news outlet, the Los Angeles Loyolan, and has worked in nonprofit media.

A mom who says marijuana is the only thing that helps with her Crohn’s disease surrendered herself to Kansas authorities Monday to face possession charges in a state where medical use of pot is illegal.

Shona Banda, a cannabis advocate, made news in March when her 11-year-old son made comments about her medical pot use during an antidrug presentation at his school, leading to intervention from child services and a police search of her home that turned up more than a pound of marijuana. Banda’s son was taken into state custody, where her attorney, Sarah Swain, says he remains.

The state charged Banda with five criminal counts related to her drug use and set a $50,000 bond in June.

Banda is due to appear for a preliminary hearing Tuesday to set trial dates. Future court proceedings will determine her sentence and whether or not she gets her son back from state custody, according to Swain.

“What we are hoping is that she will regain custody of her son,” Swain told TakePart. “But she’s facing 30-plus years in prison…and obviously if she is sent to prison, regaining her son is not a possibility at all.”

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While Kansas still outlaws marijuana, 23 other states have passed laws allowing medical marijuana use—and three states have made recreational use of pot legal, including Colorado, which is just an hour’s drive from Banda’s Garden City home. Banda has been public about how medical marijuana has relieved her debilitating illness, and she wrote a book called Live Free or Die about her experience.

(Map: Lauren Wade)

When Banda surrendered to authorities, they were also delivered a petition with more than 140,000 signatures pleading for mercy in her case. The petition is part of a larger effort to press for federal medical marijuana law reform, said Christopher Burley, senior campaigns manager at Care2, which hosted the petition.

“I think this petition is important because it highlights how cruel these medical marijuana laws are,” Burley said. “We personally believe in the rule of law, but when laws are this unjust, you must challenge them, and you must change them.”

The prosecution didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause severe gastrointestinal distress and symptoms including persistent diarrhea, bleeding, and fatigue. A very small study published in the journal of the American Gastroenterological Association found that five of 11 Crohn’s patients who used cannabis experienced complete remission, and all 11 reported improved appetite and sleep with no significant side effects.