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Medical marijuana activist has lost custody of son, could face charges, after boy's comments

04/20/2015 05:10 EDT | Updated 07/11/2015 05:59 EDT
WICHITA, Kan. - A medical marijuana advocate has lost custody of her 11-year-old son at least temporarily and could face possible charges following comments the boy made during a drug education program at school.

The case of Shona Banda, 37, was forwarded Monday to the Finney County district attorney's office for a decision about charges, Garden City Police Capt. Randy Ralston said. Possible charges include possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and child endangerment, the department said in a news release.

No arrests have been made.

The divorced Garden City mother said she did not get custody of her son back following a hearing Monday in Finney County District Court, after Kansas authorities had placed the boy into protective custody.

"That's OK — I am not giving up," Banda said. "I will, I will get him and I am not going to stop until I do."

Banda, a motivational speaker and author on the medical marijuana issue, has been at the centre of a social media storm after she went public with her story. Several supporters rallied Monday at a park near the courthouse.

"It is a hot topic all across the United States," Ralston said of the social media attention. "It doesn't surprise me."

Banda is the author of a book "Live Free or Die: Reclaim your Life . . . Reclaim your Country!" that recounts her use of a concentrated cannabis oil to treat Crohn's Disease.

A gag order has since been issued in the custody case, Banda said. Her attorney, Sarah Swain, did not respond to a phone message left at her office.

Banda's legal problems began March 24 when police were called to her son's school for a child welfare check following a drug and alcohol presentation. Investigators allege the boy told school officials that his mother and other adults in his home were avid drug users and that there was a lot of drug use occurring at the home.

Banda refused to allow officers to search the home, and police stayed at the scene and denied her entry to it until they could obtain a search warrant. A search subsequently found about 1 1/4 pounds of marijuana and a lab for manufacturing cannabis oil on the kitchen table and counters, drug paraphernalia and other related items, police said. Authorities said the items were within easy reach of the child.

"The most important thing here is the child's well-being," Ralston said. "That is why it is a priority for us, just because of the danger to the child."

Authorities took the boy into protective custody and placed him with his father, Ralston said. But when the boy ended back with his mother again, authorities then took the boy back into protective custody.

Garden City School Superintendent Rick Atha said the school is co-operating with the investigation and declined further comment.

The Kansas Department of Children and Families also declined to talk about the case, citing confidentiality reasons. But its spokeswoman, Theresa Freed, said that generally the agency's goal ultimately is to "keep families together when it is safe to do so."

The latest available figures show that between July 1, 2014, and March 31 of this year Kansas removed 306 children from their homes because of alleged drug abuse by a parent, not counting cases involving methamphetamine. That accounts for 11 per cent of the child welfare removals in Kansas.

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