Excerpts from Buzzfeed
Kris Lewandowski had survived tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine, but he feared the side effects of the dozen pills prescribed by a doctor would kill him.
That’s when the 33-year-old father of two began growing marijuana at home to treat his PTSD symptoms, his wife, Whitney Lewandowski, told BuzzFeed News.
The couple and their two young sons were living outside Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in June 2014 as his honorable discharge from the Marines processed. Finding the best mix of medication for his mental health was a process of trial and error, Whitney Lewandowski said, and one Sunday, there was an “issue.”
“We called for help,” she said.
Comanche County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report that Kris Lewandowski had been chasing his wife with a knife. As he surrendered to authorities, they found six marijuana plants in the garden.
Local media called it a “major pot bust.”
“When we get there and we find out we have marijuana there that’s being grown, it seems to get worse,” Sheriff Kenny Stradley told KSWO-TV. “And then with children present this is a bad situation gone worse for the whole entire family.”
Though the amount of pot growing at the Lewandowski home would in many states be seen as appropriate, Oklahoma law has no provision for medical marijuana. Cultivation of any amount of the drug carries a sentence of between two years and life in prison — among the strictest penalties in the country.
Recognition of medical marijuana is also gaining some traction among veterans groups. Kris Lewandowski had been involved with the Weed For Warriors Project, one of a number of groups that advocates the benefits of marijuana for PTSD and other disabilities.
But as a federal agency, doctors with the Veteran’s Administration remain unable to recommend medical marijuana, even in states where it is legal.
The VA’s National Center for PTSD reports there have been no controlled studies evaluating the safety or effectiveness of marijuana on PTSD, and therefore no reason to recommend it as a treatment.
“The belief that marijuana can be used to treat PTSD is limited to anecdotal reports from individuals with PTSD who say that the drug helps with their symptoms,” according to the center.
But change may be coming. Legislation to allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana passed a Senate committee in May.
Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who introduced the amendment to a larger spending bill, said patients should be allowed to discuss what they want with their doctors.
“Our nation’s heroes should have easy access to the resources, services and medical care they need and deserve,” the Republican said in a statement at the time.
Though Whitney Lewandowski still fears for her husband, other veterans are also on her mind.
“It’s now going to be my business that this never happens to somebody else,” she said. “They need help. We need to give it to them. They served their country.”
UPDATE:THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2016 AT 11:38 A.M. BY NICK SCHOU of the OCweekly
Lewandowski spent the next week shackled in a bus on his way to Oklahoma, a trip extended for a day when several inmates were injured when the driver slammed the brakes to punish a mouthy prisoner and had to be taken to the hospital for an examination. As soon as Lewandowski appeared in court, the judge ordered he be allowed to return to California pending trial; on July 20, 2015, after more than a month in jail, he returned to Orange County.
When I last wrote about Lewandowski in a Sept. 7 news story for the Weekly , the Laguna Niguel resident was awaiting a late October sentencing hearing in Oklahoma stemming from his arrest two years ago. His biggest fear was that Judge Emmit Tayloe would give him the stiffest sentence possible under the plea deal he had signed—five years in state prison. Because Lewandowski felt that five years in prison for growing a plant that is now legal for medical purposes in roughly half of the United States was too harsh a possibility, he withdrew his plea on Oct. 19.
Unfortunately, as a result of that legal move, Lewandowski has now been charged with two extra crimes. The newly added charges—assault with a deadly weapon and a firearms charge—stem from the fact that shortly before he was arrested, Lewandowski, who was growing cannabis to help treat the PTSD that he had been battling, had allegedly threatened his wife, Whitney, who had just destroyed one of his plants, with a kitchen knife. (The firearms charge involves a family heirloom that Lewandowski had in the house with him).
According to Whitney, Lewandowski has never harmed her, but police threatened to charge her with cultivating marijuana along with her husband if she didn't press charges against him, which would mean the couple would have lost custody of their children. Because of Lewandowski's status as a PTSD-suffering combat veteran, his case has drawn widespread attention, as well as political support from the nationwide veterans group Weed for Warriors.
None of that appears to be impress Oklahoma's local drug warriors, however. The Weekly has obtained audiotape of the Oct. 19 hearing, in which prosecutor Jordan Cabelka repeatedly mocks Lewandowski, implying that he's just a stoner faking medical problems. Among other things, Cabelka tried to imply that Lewandowski had previously appeared in court in a wheelchair in a "ploy" to gain sympathy from the judge, noting that at a restaurant later that same day, Lewandowski was photographed standing up.
"I guess in that picture you're aware that you're wearing a Cheech and Chong shirt, is that correct?" Cabelka then asks, apparently in an attempt to portray Lewandowski as guilty by sartorial association.
Matthew J. Pappas is an Orange County-based attorney who is assisting Lewandowski. "The insanity of putting a marine veteran who served in combat for his country into jail for using a medicine—the only medicine that has been effective—to treat his severe PTSD shows why we have such deep and serious problems in this country," he said.
Lewandowski's trial is scheduled to begin in January 2017. If convicted of all charges, he potentially faces ten years to life in prison.