By Mark Minton

A Garden City medicinal marijuana advocate facing various drug charges has hired new legal counsel.

Shona Banda, who is charged with endangering a child, distribution or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of school property, unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, has hired Kenneth B. Miller of Wichita and Michael Minardi of Minardi Law in Florida after already having gone through two defense attorneys.

According to a press release issued Saturday by Stacie Swanson-Crass, a member of the The Human Solution International (THSI) advocacy group for the legalization of cannabis and a supporter of Banda, the new legal team was assembled by Banda with donations from supporters and the general public.

However, Menardi said he would be willing to serve Banda pro bono if necessary.

“This isn’t about money,” he said. “This is about caring about a person and making sure that someone isn’t treated unfairly because her choice of medicine is a plant that’s been in this world since its beginning vs. these pharmaceutical drugs that are killing people each and every day.”

According to the press release, Minardi is well known for arguing cases that have resulted in acquittals and reduced plea bargains in Florida, where cannabis is illegal medically and recreationally, just as it is in Kansas.

Miller will be acting as Banda’s Kansas counsel while Minardi, who is not licensed to practice law in Kansas, will advise him on matters pertinent to his experience and expertise.

“I am, I think, one of very few people in this country that have won a medical necessity case or argued a medical necessity defense in a nonmedical state, and that is why they brought me on,” Minardi said.

Banda’s charges stem from an investigation by the Department of Children and Families and Garden City police in which authorities searched Banda’s home in March 2015 and seized suspected marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

The intervention was spurred by the comments made by her then 11-year-old son at school, where he said his mother and other adults in his home were avid users of marijuana and that there was a lot of marijuana use in his home. The state removed Banda’s son from her custody after the investigation.

Banda is well known for her use of cannabis oil in treating her Crohn’s disease and authored a book on the subject titled, “Live Free or Die.” She also has appeared in YouTube videos and online articles, espousing belief in the medicinal benefits of cannabis oil. The story of her son’s removal from her home in 2015 garnered national attention and calls to decriminalize medical marijuana in Kansas.

Minardi said that as far as the defense goes, it comes down to an issue of survival.

“This woman has been through numerous surgeries,” he said. “She’s suffered through constant and regular pain. She had a choice whether or not to continue on with these medications that cause significant side effects that don’t work and don’t do anything to help, or use something that can give her quality of life, to allow her to spend quality time with her children without suffering.”

In July, the Finney County Attorney’s Office filed a motion asking Chief District Judge Wendel Wurst to rule whether Banda should be allowed to claim the benefits of medical marijuana as part of her defense. Wurst has yet to make a ruling on the motion.

In late November, Judge Wurst granted a motion by public defender Ron Evans, who was representing Banda, requesting that a mental competency evaluation be performed on Banda to determine if she is competent to stand trial.

Banda said in court that she was agreeable to the evaluation, which was scheduled for Jan. 5 at Compass Behavioral Health. A subsequent hearing to review the findings of the evaluation is scheduled for 11 a.m. Jan. 17 in Finney County District Court.

Minardi said he does not know if the evaluation has taken place and has not seen a report on her mental competence.

“I would say she is clearly competent and understands what’s going on,” he said. “How that issue came up, I have no idea. And why the public defender would even argue it, I have no idea. But from every conversation I have had with her, she is a brilliant woman who is just trying to save her life.”

In March, Banda filed a lawsuit in federal court in Wichita naming the Garden City Police Department, Garden City USD 457, the State of Kansas, the governor and the DCF, among others, alleging that her rights to use cannabis for medicinal purposes and to maintain custody of her son had been violated.

In late December, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.

Despite that, Minardi is confident Banda's case can be tried successfully.

“From my perspective, she has a great case, her condition is clear, her use of cannabis is clear, the science behind cannabis is clear,” Minardi said. “This poor woman wanted to be a good mother, wants to live for her child, wants to be able to be there and be a good parent, and if cannabis is the medication that helps her do that, she should be able to use it.”

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