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Medical Marijuana Group Collecting Stories Of ‘Persecution’ By Kansas Agency

Andy Marso
Heartland Health Monitor
Christine Bay of Lenexa displayed a sign at a rally on the Country Club Plaza that included a photo of her daughter Autumn, who has a seizure disorder.

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 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 parents who use cannabis, 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.”

Credit Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor
Heartland Health Monitor
Lisa Sublett, founder of a medical marijuana advocacy group known as Bleeding Kansas, participated in the rally Saturday.

Sublett said she believes some DCF officials have a “personal agenda” against cannabis.

Theresa Freed, the agency’s director of communications, said in an 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 has one of the nation’s more restrictive laws, allowing only low-THC cannabis for treating sever seizure disorders.

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 earlier this week near the Country Club Plaza and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

There is sparse scientific evidence to back up the claims made by some at the rally 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 2011showed promise in treating Crohn’s disease 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 Monday’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.”

On Thursday, the Kansas House gave first-round approval by a 67-49 vote Thursday to a measure legalizing the use of low-THC marijuana oil for people with persistent seizure disorders. 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 the Finney County prosecuting attorney is trying to decide whether to file criminal charges against Banda.

Sublett predicted an outpouring of support for Banda from the “international cannabis community” if she does.

A fund set up on a crowdsourcing website three weeks ago requested $15,000 for Banda’s legal bills. As of Monday morning, it had raised almost $42,000 from almost 1,500 donors.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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