Shona Banda suffers from Crohn’s disease, and has found, as have many Crohn’s sufferers, that medical marijuana provides her with effective relief and allows her to manage her illness and live a somewhat normal life. Specifically, Banda uses cannabis oil.
The problem is she lives in, Garden City, Kansas, a state that does not yet recognize the medical uses of marijuana. And when her 11-year old son spoke up in his drug education class to challenge some of the anti-marijuana allegations being taught to the children – and shared the fact that his mother uses cannabis to manage her Crohn’s disease – Banda’s son was removed from her custody by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Her home was subsequently raided, and Banda is now facing three drug felonies (possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000-feet of a school; endangering a child; and unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance) for the cannabis oil found in her home, and she faces a possible jail term in excess of 30-years. Banda first used cannabis oil to manage her disease when she lived in Colorado for a period of time, before returning to her home in Kansas.
Banda is being represented by attorney Sarah Swain, who publicly has promised an aggressive defense that will challenge every facet of the prosecution’s case, including the questioning of the 11-year-old son without either of his parents present; the search warrant issued for their home based on that questioning; and the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no medical usefulness.
This case is just the latest from states around the country that illustrate the incredibly harsh and unjustified consequences of marijuana prohibition, the unsustainable differences in the manner in which we treat our most vulnerable citizens from one state to another, and the absolute moral impairative that we stop treating seriously ill patients as criminals, regardless of where they may call home.
Surely this immediate situation could have been handled by reasonable people in a manner based on compassion and concern for the welfare of this serious ill mother, striving to find a way to lead a full life and raise her young son. The school could have exercised some discretion and common sense and accepted the comments made by her young son as reflecting the reality of his and his mother’s life, and this would not have become a matter of public concern. And the Garden City police should not have questioned the young child without his parent’s consent, and did not have to seek a questionable search warrant, based on the child’s statements, to invade Banda’s home and violate her privacy. And finally, the local prosecutor, Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier, with even a wit of compassion and understanding, could have exercised her discretion and refused to file criminal charges, bringing this embarrassing episode to a close, and allowing this seriously ill woman a chance to live a normal life.
But at each level, the civic institutions in Kansas failed their responsibility to serve the best interests of the citizens of Kansas, ignoring the obviously compelling factual situation, and blindly pursuing the war on drugs, despite the horrendous repercussions of that choice.
Rather they have reminded us of the enduring harm caused by marijuana prohibition, and the damage it has done not just to the victims of this misguided war, but also to those in civic positions of trust who have lost their moral compass in their blind support for prohibition.
Shame on everyone who had anything to do with allowing this case to get to this point, and who failed to stand up and publicly question the appropriateness of this entire witch-hunt. These are people who are either incredibly ignorant of the important and sometimes life-altering benefits medical marijuana provides to tens of thousands of seriously ill patients across this country (37 states now permit at least limited medical use of marijuana), or they are truly mean-spirited people who simply do not care.
Regardless, it reminds me of how much work we still have ahead of us, and why I would never wish to live in rural Kansas.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed legislation today decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses.
Members of the Senate voted 12 to 9 in favor of the measure, House Bill 39, this afternoon. The Governor signed the measure into law this evening.
House and Senate members approved the measure despite vocal opposition from law enforcement and Republicans. No Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the bill.
Under state law, the possession of personal use quantities of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, a $575 fine, and a criminal record. House Bill 39 reduces penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine only — no arrest, and no criminal record.
The use of marijuana in public or in a moving vehicle will remain a criminal offense.
The new penalties take effect six months from today.
According to the ACLU, Delaware police arrest more than 2,500 individuals annually for simple marijuana possession offenses. Delaware ranks #17 in the nation in per capita marijuana possession arrests. Blacks in Delaware are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Delaware’s decriminalization law mimics similar laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — each of which treat minor marijuana possessions as a civil violation. Similar legislation in Illinois is awaiting action from the Governor.
Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio classify marijuana possession as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine only.
Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, DC previously enacted marijuana decriminalization policies, but have since amended their laws to legalize the plant’s possession and use.
Nearly six out of ten New Jersey adults favor legalizing the use and sale of marijuana, according to the results of a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released today.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that they support “legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and over.” Thirty-nine percent of respondents oppose legalizing cannabis.
Support for legalization was highest among those age 18 to 34 (67 percent), Democrats (64 percent), and Independents (61 percent). Support was lowest among Republicans (41 percent) and those over the age of 65 (47 percent).
When respondents were asked if they supported regulating marijuana in the same manner as alcohol, support rose to sixty percent.
In a recent appearance on CBS’s program Face the Nation, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie announced that, if elected President, he would use the power of the federal government to prosecute marijuana-related activities in states that have legalized the plant.
The enactment of state laws legalizing the use and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes has not caused an increase in marijuana use by adolescents, according to the results of a federally funded study published this week in Lancet Psychiatry.
Investigators at Columbia University in New York and the University of Michigan assessed the relationship between state medical marijuana laws and rates of self-reported adolescent marijuana use over a 24-year period in a sampling of over one million adolescents in 48 states. Researchers reported no increase in teens’ overall use of the plant that could be attributable to changes in law, and acknowledged a “robust” decrease in use among 8th graders.
They concluded: “[T]he results of this study showed no evidence for an increase in adolescent marijuana use after the passage of state laws permitting use of marijuana for medical purposes. … [C]oncerns that increased marijuana use is an unintended effect of state marijuana laws seem unfounded.”
The study’s results are consistent with the findings of previous assessments — such as those available here, here, here, here, and here. But this latest study is the most well designed and comprehensive assessment performed to date.
Full text of the study, “Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys,” appears online here.
Many observers were shocked and saddened when Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who is authorized to use medical marijuana under Colorado state law, was fired from his job with Dish Network in 2010 after a positive drug test. Dish failed to make an exception for Coats, who used marijuana while off duty to control his seizures, and the company insisted on his being fired, leaving Coats no choice but to challenge this issue in court.
Specifically, Coats claimed that his conduct should have been permitted under the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, which makes it an unfair and discriminatory labor practice to discharge an employee based on the employee’s “lawful,” away-from-work activities. But the trial court, followed by the Court of Appeals and now the Colorado Supreme Court, have all ruled that the statute only protects conduct that is legal under both state and federal law — and therefore offers no job protection to Coats.
“Therefore, employees who engage in an activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute,” Justice Allison H. Eid wrote in the opinion.
This case highlights one of the most pressing issues that needs to be addressed in the states that have legalized medical cannabis use — and the states that have adopted full legalization for all adults, as well. Although employees are protected from arrest and prosecution under state law by these various laws, they remain vulnerable to employment discrimination in almost all states.
Simply put, if an employer wants to insist on what they frequently call a “drug-free workplace,” they are legally permitted to do that — regardless of the unfairness this policy may cause, because we must note that they do not apply those same standards to off-job alcohol consumption or the use of prescription drugs.
Most Americans would strongly support the right of an employer to fire anyone who comes to work in an impaired condition. But smoking marijuana leaves one mildly impaired only for about an hour and a half; certainly smoking marijuana in the evening, or on the weekend, would have no impact on the employee who comes to work the following day.
Effort renewed to add PTSD to Colorado medical marijuana list
(Craig F. Walker, Denver Post file)
What we really need is for employers in these legalized states to become responsible corporate citizens and to do the right thing: Stop penalizing employees, absent a showing of impairment on the job. But absent that voluntary shift in policy, the obligation is now on those of us who favor marijuana legalization to go back to the state legislatures in states that have legalized cannabis, either for medical use or for all adults, and enact appropriate job protections for those who use marijuana legally under state law.
Before being allowed to fire an employee who tests positive for THC, the employer must be required to demonstrate on-the-job impairment. Just as we do not permit someone to be fired for reason of their gender, religion or race, neither should we permit an employee to be fired simply because they elect to use marijuana legally under state law, without a showing of actual on-job impairment.
Otherwise we are requiring many medical-use patients to choose between relieving their pain and suffering and keeping their employment. And we are allowing employers to fire good, hard-working, loyal employees for off-the-job activities that are totally unrelated to their job performance.
And that is simply unfair, and it cannot be allowed to stand. So let’s get to work and fix this problem.
Keith Stroup is an attorney, author of “It’s NORML to Smoke Pot: The 40-year Fight for Marijuana Smokers’ Rights” and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, where he serves as legal counsel.