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When Shona Banda (photo above) was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, she never imagined it would eventually lead her to lose custody of her 11-year-old son. Child Protective Services entered her home and removed her child in late March. After he spoke in support of medical cannabis during an anti-pot class held by counselors at his school, authorities found marijuana in the Banda household. Banda uses the marijuana as medicine to control some of the symptoms of her condition.

In early June, she was charged with a number of crimes:

  • felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute
  • production of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • possession of drug paraphernalia
  • child endangerment

She faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if found guilty on all charges.

Her story is similar to that of Amber Thurmond, an Arizona resident who uses medically prescribed cannabis to control seizures. After sending her daughter to Kansas (a state which bans even medicinal use of marijuana) to live with her brother while she got on her feet financially, she was charged with physical, emotional and mental neglect of the child. A Kansas judge has declared that she would need to return to Kansas if she hopes to regain custody of her nine-year-old.

Sarah Swain, lawyer to both Banda and Thurmond, reported:

“These mothers are being forced to choose between their health and their ability to be a parent, and there really is no choice to be made. We can’t be mothers if we’re so sick that we’re bedridden, or if we aren’t alive.”

Before turning to cannabis, Banda underwent 17 surgeries and tried several medications, including the powerful narcotic fentanyl, which was given to her as palliative care when doctors believed she was dying. After years of parenting from the couch, she tried marijuana and began to get better. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the commonly known psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana, is known for stimulating appetite and providing relief from pain and nausea. She credits THC for the relief of these symptoms, which in turn has helped her to become a good mother.

Keith Stroup, founder and legal counsel for NORML, an advocacy group that is pushing for legal marijuana, said that he hears stories like these every week. He recently stated:

“There are far too many people who presume that if you smoke marijuana, you’re not a qualified parent.”

Cannabis has been legalized in some form or another in 38 states, but Kansas is not one of them. Due to the differences in state laws, those who use marijuana in states that uphold a ban face both consequences and stigma they would not face in more marijuana-friendly states. Many parents, including Banda and Thurmond, have tried to stay within the confines of the law by moving to such states as Colorado and Arizona but often have to move back due to financial, family or other circumstances.

Since Banda’s son was taken into CPS custody, she has only been able to see him one time, and she has not used any cannabis. She has started to lose weight, and she is once again dealing with an infection that is rotting the roof of her mouth. She stated:

“I’m very afraid. I cannot believe that I could be facing 30 years in prison for trying to save my life.”

Banda will turn herself in to authorities on June 15. Her lawyers are hopeful that she will serve far less time than the 30-year maximum, but her fate remains to be seen.

photo credit: kansascity.com

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