Fresh Out Of Prison, Medical Marijuana Gives 20-year-old Hope For A New Life
WILKES-BARRE — With his hands stuffed in his sweatshirt pockets, Jonathan Guerrero bobbed his knees under the cafe table.
His eyes darted around the room while his mom, Robin Guerrero, explained the Swoyersville family’s weeks since her son left prison Dec. 26, the missteps that landed him there and the medicine that gives the 20-year-old hope he can go back to school, start a career and seek out new adventures.
When he speaks, he looks you in the eye. His words are deliberate. His legs are still.
After just a week with his medical marijuana card, Jonathan Guerrero stopped taking the antipsychotic drugs that made him feel like a zombie.
He is diagnosed with a daunting slate of disorders, including oppositional defiant disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He received the borderline diagnosis while locked up most recently, and his mom disputes that he has it at all.
He also has depression and anxiety.
Jonathan Guerrero’s latest conviction, the one that landed him in the State Intermediate Punishment, or SIP, program, was in May.
He was already on probation and getting high on spice, also called K2 or synthetic cannabis. To feed his habit, he broke into somebody’s home to steal a TV.
“All over spice,” his mom said. “To get money for spice.”
While at Quehanna Boot Camp, he was on Remeron, an antidepressant; Seroquel, an antipsychotic, and Neurontin, an anti-seizure medicine used to treat opioid dependence or people at risk of opioid dependence.
He is off all of them now. Robin Guerrero emptied on the table a medicine cabinet’s worth of cannabis products that her son uses every day.
In the morning, he eats a gummy that his mom makes at home using an extract, an indica strain called Gorilla Glue 4.
He smokes a dry leaf sativa strain in the afternoon to relieve anxiety, gain some energy and focus.
At night, he uses distillate in a vape pen to help him sleep, a strain high in THC.
His mom said they carefully researched each product, treat it like medicine and carefully log his doses.
“It’s not like you go and buy a whole bunch of pot and you smoke it,” said his mother, who advocated for her son and has her own card to treat chronic pain. “This is medical marijuana.”
As they studied up, she said she found it is important to pay attention to the terpenes, or the aromatic oils also found in cannabis plants, which have different effects to help users relax or focus.
By using cannabis while still tied up in the criminal justice system, Jonathan Guerrero is forging unfamiliar territory. A state corrections department spokeswoman confirmed at least one other person was certified before him, but Guerrero is one of the first in the SIP program to be certified.
The state bans possession and using cannabis for medical reasons in state prisons and community corrections centers, she said.
Jonathan and Robin Guerrero said it was difficult convincing his probation officer that the drug will help him stay motivated and keep him out of trouble.
The SIP program was created in 2005 to shorten sentences for people convicted of drug-related crimes and give them a more constructive path toward productive lives, with an intense therapy component that helps them stay clear of hard drugs forever.
For Jonathan Guerrero, it was the difference between a five- to seven-year prison sentence or two years in the SIP program. He spent only four months at Quehanna then therapeutic community rehab for two months.
“I just want to get through this program and live life,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been off papers and been able to do things on my own and not have somebody watching over me. ... To actually be free to be myself and feel good about myself, to not have any limitations — I could go to California or Florida if I want — to do the things I actually want to do.”
“Or go back to college,” his mom interjected.
He will be monitored by GPS for 30 days after his release and spend six months in an outpatient rehabilitation program. Then he is done.
Contact the writer: email@example.com;
@jon_oc on Twitter