Article by Nick Schou, OC Weekly
Kristoffer Lewandowski doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a pot baron. A veteran of three tours of duty with the U.S. Marines, including stints in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Laguna Niguel resident divides his time between architecture classes at Saddleback College and helping his wife, Whitney, raise their three young sons. But thanks to a 2-year-old episode of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that occurred in Oklahoma and led to a guilty plea for growing six marijuana plants, Lewandowski now faces an Oct. 19 sentencing hearing that could land him in state prison for five years.
If that sounds like a heavy sentence for half a dozen scraggly plants, consider this: Thanks to the Sooner State’s notoriously retrograde policy on cannabis—it’s one of a dwindling number nationwide that offer no protections for medical use of marijuana—Lewandowski at one point was actually facing life in prison for the plants. (The local media even hyped his arrest as a “major pot bust.”)
Lewandowski’s problems began in Geronimo, Oklahoma, just outside Fort Sill, where he had been teaching field artillery classes until chronic pain from a back injury finally took him off active duty. The sudden transition from several years in Middle Eastern combat zones to a sedentary life in rural Oklahoma simultaneously triggered an onset of PTSD. As an artillery operations chief, Lewandowski had fired off countless shells in support of combat troops, and the psychic weight of the carnage he knew he’d wrought was coming back to haunt him. “In Afghanistan, what gets me more than anything was the acceptance of death and of taking life,” he recently explained over pizza at a Lake Forest Chuck E. Cheese. He sat next to Whitney, who carried their baby, while their two older children played nearby. “It was completely acceptable. It almost would have been unacceptable not to celebrate a successful firing operation, but now to think about every one of those rounds and what they did, I have a big issue living with that.”
Lewandowski signed himself up for psychological counseling, but talking about his problems didn’t seem to help. One night, a friend sleeping on Lewandowski’s couch watched his sleepwalking host clearing the house of imaginary intruders. Then, on June 1, 2014, he got into an argument with Whitney about the marijuana plants he was attempting to grow in the house. After she destroyed one of the plants, Lewandowski grabbed a knife and Whitney fled to a neighbor’s house with her kids.
A brief standoff with police followed, and upon the discovery of the plants, sheriff’s deputies charged Lewandowski with cultivating marijuana. According to Whitney, deputies told her that if she didn’t press domestic-abuse charges against her husband, they’d send her to jail for the plants, too. To keep from losing custody of their children, Whitney followed their advice, but after 11 days, when child-welfare workers determined Lewandowski didn’t pose a threat to his family, the couple reunited and haven’t had an issue since. (Whitney says her husband has never laid a hand on her or the kids.)