RCMP’S reefer madness

Medpot Mountie Cpl. Ron Francis's battle to smoke out RCMP's PTSD denial ends in suicide

Just a few weeks ago I was teaching RCMP Cpl. Ron Francis how to vaporize his medical marijuana.

He promised to check back in, but we never had another virtual session. He was found dead in his Kingsclear First Nation, New Brunswick, home on Monday, October 6, apparently a suicide.

Tossed aside by RCMP brass because he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and publicly bullied by Conservative parliamentarians for marijuana medicating, Francis emailed long after the media had lost interest in a “pot-smoking Mountie.”

We connected by sharing war stories about the side effects of antidepressants and how overwhelming sudden weed fame can be. We discovered a strong mutual respect for each other.

The heroic act of outing himself as a pot user was intended to draw attention to a dramatic lack of PTSD services and a cop culture of “suck it up, buttercup.”

Francis said, “I shouldn’t hide my medical marijuana from the public.”

His courage was catchy. He empowered people nationwide who hide their cannabis from loved ones and employers. It’s precisely the kind of courage prohibitionists fear and thousands of Canadians emailed him positive encouragement. Many privately outing themselves and writing at length about their own PTSD battles.

By all accounts Francis was a courageous officer.

Starting in 2007, he began trying different medications to deal with his PTSD and came to cannabis only when all else failed. He received a prescription to smoke weed, which he said calmed his symptoms. Francis spent years trying to cope by using prescription pills.

“It was hard for me to accept medical marijuana at first,” he told me.

Enlightened by cannabis healing, he hatched a brilliant plan to use pot’s huge popularity to smoke out Mountie denial around PTSD. He smoked openly the first time while on duty and in uniform, attracting national headlines as well as the wrath of his superiors. It was after a Remembrance Day ceremony.

It was ganja genius: the force had to address PTSD issues frontline officers face and publicly respond to his medpot puffing.

“I was told by the psychologist hired by the RCMP I was better off taking marijuana than Ativan because of Ativan’s side effects. The RCMP should argue with the psychologist, not me.”

But had RCMP provided better mental health services, our pot-smoking mountie may never have gone public.

“I wanted these [mental health] issues addressed within the RCMP,” he told me.

Since 2006, 31 retired or active RCMP officers have committed suicide. Cleverly and quietly, Francis used his unique situation to educate skeptical higher-ups on the force about the effects of PTSD. His personal battle motivated him hugely.

He demanded officers receive more time off to heal, more access to services and more say in which duties they are assigned when returning from leave for PTSD-related illness. But the RCMP placed him in the major crimes unit when he came back from his leave.

“My job was to catalogue human remains and drive them around the province. I was still healing from PTSD. It wasn’t a place for me to be.”

Disabled Canadians medicating in the workforce need to be accommodated, but RCMP brass never thought to put a vaporizer in a basement and hide Francis.

Instead, when Francis went public with his condition, he says “the hammer came down.”

He was placed on medical leave, and forced to return his uniform in November 2013.

As the story was gaining momentum something weird and crazy happened.

RCMP officers showed up at his door in December 2013 with a form that allowed them to hold him under the Mental Health Act for 72 hours, reportedly because he might hurt himself or someone else.

He got into an altercation with the officers and was charged with two counts of assaulting fellow officers and one count of resisting arrest. Officers used a stun gun to subdue him. He was held for 30 days to determine if he was fit to stand trial.

His lawyer suggested the RCMP motive was to remove his client from the media spotlight. Released, the RCMP returned to Francis’s home weeks later after Francis called in distress. Suspecting alcohol, officers charged him with breaching a bail condition. Another altercation broke out in which Francis allegedly pushed one officer and grabbed another by the shirt. He was charged with two more counts of assault.

Francis’s messaged me weeks before his three-day trial was set to begin. He was looking forward to presenting what happened and wanted people to know the officer he gave a bloody nose too had a personal beef.

He would eventually plead guilty to two counts of assault and, in exchange, have the other charges dropped. His sentencing was scheduled for November 3.

The incident left tremendous emotional damage, he told me last summer. By then he had fallen off the media’s radar, but he was looking forward to justice.

He committed suicide before his sentencing date.

Francis’s commanding officer is asking media not to speculate about his death, but it’s more important than ever to examine events via a coroner’s inquest.

BC’s coroner’s office has set out to investigate a Mountie suicide – why not New Brunswick’s?

Matt Mernagh is a longtime medical marijuana activist.

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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