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New Mexico Corrections Officer Fired for Medicating Legally with Cannabis

By Doug Fine July 20, 2013 New Mexico Corrections Officer Fired for Medicating Legally with Cannabis
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“I can find another job, but I’m not going back to pharmaceuticals.”

As it has with thousands of PTSD patients nationwide, cannabis gave 32-year-old Augustine Stanley his life back. Already a decorated veteran, already the youngest Lieutenant at New Mexico’s Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center, he could survive IEDs in Iraq and prison gang member sequestration cells in Albuquerque. But it looks iffy whether his promising, unblemished career will survive a urine test.

Stanley led the team of corrections officers that handles the highest risk inmates in the Albuquerque area – not just violent criminals, but people at risk to themselves. “I was interviewing for promotion to Captain,” he told me. “I don’t even have a disciplinary file. Then last September I failed a urine test.”

This is, sadly and temporarily, not a unique case of what happens in the final days of cannabis prohibition when a patient who works in a “drug”-tested position and his family choose his well-being over even his livelihood and obligation to support, in Stanley’s case, his four kids. And when you talk to this local boy, he makes no bones about one truth: cannabis was and is a life-or-death necessity for him. Otherwise he would never have threatened a career that had logged 13 years toward a lucrative 20-year retirement plan.

In a steady, non-emotional voice, Stanley told me, “The Xanax (alprazolam anti-anxiety pharmaceutical) I was prescribed (after a traumatic tour in Iraq in 2005) just deepened my depression. I was a worse person to be around. I’d take even half the prescribed amount and fall asleep on the couch. I think of that time and the word that comes to mind is zombie.”

Then another vet told Stanley what thousands of vets now know: that cannabis frees many PTSD sufferers from addictive pills and their often devastating side-effects, while allowing them to function in their work, in their relationships, and in their journey toward healing.

“My wife didn’t like the sound of it at first,” Stanley said. “But I had to try it – I knew what (cannabis) was, from trying it now and then in college. I knew it wouldn’t kill me. The legal pills I was supposed to take every day were killing me.” (The New York Times reported in 2011 that an entire hospital system in Tennessee stopped prescribing alprazolam because its abuse was so widespread.)

What are Stanley’s wife Anetra’s feelings about medical cannabis today? “I got educated on it,” she told me. “It’s amazing. It really is. I don’t want him to stop. If he stops, he’s a different person. He’s angry. When he’s medicated, he’s able to have patience, play with the kids, he’s my husband again. It’s night and day. Even his mother sees that he’s got his life back and supports him using this medicine. I used to think medicinal cannabis was an excuse to smoke. So my message to the world is to embrace this plant as a medicine. It’s real and it works.”

So how does a PTSD sufferer utilize cannabis? It varies, of course, patient to patient: that’s how herbal medication works – ask any Chinese medical practitioner; this a tradition that hasn’t stopped using cannabis for the last 3,000 years, including to ease delivery pain and anxiety for mothers-to-be during labor. Stanley describes his cannabis use this way: “If I’m having a panic attack, I use it. But that’s happening less and less now. I never used it at work.”

And yet his effective medication, an inexpensive plant he obtained legally under New Mexico’s state medicinal cannabis program, got him fired.

“I was interviewing for promotions – no one was even thinking of firing me,” Stanley said to me. “But on January 7 of this year I was fired for cannabis showing up in a drug test. There are plenty of correction officers on prescriptions and they’re allowed to work – why shouldn’t I have the same opportunity? I’m following state law.”

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