The story of Kris Lewandowski, a Marine Corps combat veteran arrested for growing six marijuana plants in Oklahoma two years ago, has now come full circle.
In a bad way.
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.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).