A medical marijuana advocacy group is collecting stories from Kansans who say they have been “persecuted” by the state’s child welfare agency for using cannabis.
Lisa Sublett, the founder of Bleeding Kansas, said the effort began after Shona Banda, a Garden City woman who says she uses cannabis oil to treat her Crohn’s disease, lost custody of her son after the boy spoke up at a school anti-drug presentation.
Banda, the author of a self-published book on her cannabis treatment regimen, is well-known in the medical marijuana community. Coverage of her custody fight has spurred others to come forward with stories about the Kansas Department for Children and Families cracking down on cannabis users with children, Sublett said.
“Since the Kansas City Star article ran, I have had families come out of the woodwork,” Sublett said. “We all have. There’s a place now for people to reach out and tell their stories about persecution by DCF, and those stories are being collected.”
Sublett said she believes some DCF officials have a “personal agenda” against cannabis.
Theresa Freed, the agency’s director of communications, said via email that the department is focused on its mission to “protect children, promote healthy families and encourage personal responsibility.”
“Our social workers are trained to assess the safety of a home and make an appropriate recommendation to the court,” Freed said. “Marijuana is an illegal substance in the state of Kansas. It can have both direct and indirect negative consequences on families. Our personal agenda is to keep children safe.”
Almost half the states have legalized some form of medical marijuana. Missouri is one of them, but has one of the nation’s most restrictive medical marijuana allowances.
All forms of marijuana are illegal in Kansas and possession of any amount is a felony upon second offense. Opponents of legalizing the substance for medical use have said such a change would make it nearly impossible to regulate its recreational use.
Sublett and medical marijuana advocates from Kansas and Missouri rallied Saturday near the Plaza and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.
There is sparse scientific evidence to back up the claims some at the rally made about the wide-ranging health benefits of cannabis.
But marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level has hampered clinical studies that might provide that evidence. Research that has emerged since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 has shown the plant can be beneficial for treating some ailments, including seizure disorders. A limited study in 2011 showed promise in treating Crohn’s and recommended further placebo-controlled data collection.
A pharmaceutical drug based on cannabis, the appetite-stimulant Marinol, has been vetted and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and others are in the FDA pipeline.
In Kansas there have been hearings on legalization of various forms of medical marijuana this session, but Sublett and others at Saturday’s rally expressed frustration that the legislative process has not moved more quickly.
Sublett said the Kansas Legislature is filled with “tin men with no hearts and cowardly lions.”
“It’s like a seventh-grade school dance where everybody’s standing on the walls and nobody moves,” she said. “Behind doors we always hear, ‘I really support what you’re doing, I really support it, I just can’t (push it).’ Everybody stands there and waits for somebody else to make the first move.”
This year a bill that would legalize strictly low-THC cannabis oil only for the purpose of treating persistent seizure disorders became the first medical marijuana bill to be approved by a Kansas legislative committee. Missouri legislators approved a similar law in 2014.
Christine Bay, a Lenexa woman at the rally whose young daughter has a seizure disorder, said she favors the broader legalization contained in an alternate bill that has not advanced out of committee.
Bay said it’s difficult to wean epileptic children off pharmaceutical products and onto the oil without being able to change the THC levels.
“It also leaves out our cancer patients, our veterans with PTSD, our fibromyalgia patients,” Bay said of the oil-only bill. “And I don’t think anybody should be left out of healing.”
Banda became an online resource for other medical marijuana users after posting videos of her low-dollar method for making a type of cannabis oil.
Law enforcement did not get involved until after her son’s school contacted DCF. After making a home visit, DCF officials alerted Garden City police to the presence of marijuana in Banda’s home.
Police said they found 1.25 pounds of the plant, as well as oil and Banda’s homemade “laboratory” for producing oil, all within reach of her son.
Sublett said Banda’s son was “well-educated” about the controlled substance in his home.
The child is in foster care and Finney County prosecutors are trying to determine whether to charge Banda criminally.
Sublett predicted an outpouring of support for Banda from the “international cannabis community” if they do.
A fund set up on a crowdsourcing website three weeks ago requested $15,000 for her legal bills. As of Monday morning, it had raised almost $42,000 from almost 1,500 donors.
Sublett said she wants no charges filed and Banda to get her son back, rather than a high-profile criminal trial.