Balancing Work Life, the Law and Marijuana as a Medicine

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 12:00 am  

Life had become “absolute hell” for Blake Ruckle as his five-year hitch in the Navy came to an end in 2014.

Ruckle, now 26, was a flight deck firefighter on the USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier involved with the United States’ anti-piracy actions off the Horn of Africa. His duties included being a first responder when the bodies of four Americans killed by pirates were brought aboard the Enterprise in 2011.

The images he saw stuck in Ruckle’s mind. He said the last six months of his tour were plagued with nightmares and anxiety attacks that he kept secret so he could obtain an honorable discharge rather than a medical one.

Back home in Bentonville, Ruckle still struggled with nightmares and anxiety attacks, he said. He didn’t want to use prescription drugs to combat his problems because a close family member had died of an overdose of prescription medication in 2012.

Racked by depression and suicidal thoughts, Ruckle turned to marijuana in the fall of 2014, a few months after his discharge. He grew up dreaming of becoming a policeman and has unflinching beliefs about what’s right and wrong, but he felt marijuana was his best chance at winning his life back.

“I got ahold of it and bought some,” Ruckle said. “I tried it the first time, and I was little bit nervous. I had never done it before. It has helped my every-single-day life. Smoking takes away anxiety.”

Setting Up a System
In November, voters in Arkansas passed Issue 6 to make it legal for qualifying patients to use marijuana for medical purposes. Ruckle gave an interview to CNN after the measure passed, but grew worried at work the next day.

He declined to say where he worked other than to say it was in the food industry. But he said his co-manager complimented him on his TV appearance and has said nothing more about his marijuana use.

The amendment will make it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers qualifying for medical marijuana use. Ruckle, who has a 6-year-old daughter and another child due in July, said having job security is a big relief.

The five-person Medical Marijuana Commission has met several times to decide on five cultivation facilities and a $100,000 annual licensing fee for each grower. The amendment gives the Arkansas Legislature the authority to change aspects of the law by a two-thirds vote as long as those changes don’t affect the number of facilities, dispensaries or the legality of medical marijuana.

State Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, was named by House Speaker Jeremy Gillam as the legislative point man for medical marijuana issues. House, a retired Army colonel, said he had been outspoken in opposing the amendment but, now that it has passed, the Legislature’s duty is to implement the program as effectively as possible.

“The amendment addressed employers, but it’s not really an employer issue as much as it is a worker safety issue,” House said. “We do not want anybody under the influence of anything at a job site in a critical situation where, if their judgment is clouded, somebody, including themselves, can get hurt.”



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