Rob Ruckus is a big believer in marijuana. Specifically, he believes in the cannabis oil extract concocted by medical marijuana advocate Rick Simpson in 2001. Ruckus credits the oil with helping him to recover from a 2005 hit-and-run, and says that for a time it helped his friend, Gary Wright, to fight off the terminal lung cancer that he ultimately succumbed to in 2014.
“Gary was doing great on the oil,” Ruckus says. “But he had to go back to work at the MGM. They do drug testing, so he had to stop doing the oil. That has a lot to do with how he [died]. Ever since then, I’ve gone nuts. This is my life’s calling. This is what I need to do.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the previous lives of Rob Ruckus, here’s a quick primer. The 45-year-old Las Vegan played bass for The Vermin, the venerable local punk band that called it quits in July 2015 after 20 years. (Perhaps five of those years consisted of music; the rest was devoted to the hilariously profane stage banter at which the band excelled.) He’s a true man-about-town, a longtime fixture of the local scene whose adventures with playing in bands, tending bar and dabbling in masked wrestling have culminated in a peerless collection of near-death stories. (Asked what it’s like to be hit by a car, he replies, “Which time?”)
Odds are good, though, that you know Rob Ruckus as the co-star of the A&E channel show Bad Ink, which starred his longtime friend and bandmate Dirk Vermin. The show followed the two of them around Las Vegas as they looked for bad tattoo work, which Vermin, a talented tattoo artist, could cover up. Many of the show’s best bits are just instances of the two of them shooting the shit, punctuated by Ruckus’ gravelly, infectious laugh.
After debuting in August 2013, Bad Ink was renewed for a second season but not a third. (Ruckus believes the cancellation was because of a management change at A&E.) The show finished and Vermin and Ruckus amicably decided to pursue different avenues, which led Ruckus to Robert Nawrocki, a television producer looking to create a different kind of Las Vegas reality show—“Breaking Bad meets Casino,” as he puts it. Nawrocki wanted to make an unscripted show about the business of growing and selling medical marijuana—and in Ruckus, he found a willing and wholly appropriate host for the program, which he’s named From Seed to Sale.
“We’re putting Rob at the head of this cutting-edge industry,” Nawrocki says. “And we’re not just dealing with one aspect [of medical marijuana]. We’re dealing with the whole industry, from government officials to the growers to the dispensaries.”
So far, Nawrocki and Ruckus have completed a six-minute “sizzle reel” for the show, which Nawrocki is shopping to likely buyers. (One interested party might be Netflix, which recently began showing Bad Ink on its streaming service.) Nawrocki says that enough material has been shot to do a pilot episode, which he’s hopeful we’ll be able to see in about two months.
In the meantime, the two of them are trying to keep up with a local industry whose rules, power players and public face seem to change by the day. And when he talks about the show, I see a different Rob Ruckus than I’ve seen in the past. Normally an easygoing type, Ruckus takes on a radical edge when he talks about Nevada’s stop-start approach to medical marijuana, and he does so with a clarity that betrays years of close study.
“It’s politics and money,” he says. “If people find out that there’s an oil that they can get that’s going to take away their cancer instead of going through chemo, it’s going to take down a fucking trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry, and they’re not about to just let that happen.”
“Rob’s a real believer,” Nawrocki says. “I did feel this shoot was kind of difficult for Rob, because it touched on a lot of things that deeply resonate with him. But he did great. People really responded to him.”
“I’m a patient, so I know what I’ve gone through, but I’m meeting a lot of people from different walks of life,” Ruckus says. “Right now I’m talking to a lawyer who got hit so hard by cerebral palsy that he had to get a caregiver. He’s still a brilliant man; he just can’t get his hands to stop flailing and can’t get the words out of his mouth properly. But after smoking a little bit, he calms right down and you can understand what he says.
“It’s really, really heavy that this guy is paying all this money to get the licenses he needs to get this medication legally, and there’s still no real way for him to do it. He’s been paying hundreds of dollars every year to the State to get this card that basically isn’t helping him at all. It’s just putting more money into the State’s fucking pocket.”
Ruckus had to keep a lid on his medical marijuana advocacy while he was working on Bad Ink. Now freed, he seems visibly transformed. He’s optimistic that From Seed to Sale will change lives, possibly because doing the show has already changed his own life for the better. He’s still a crusty punk, but he’s a crusty punk with a calling.
“Television does amazing things,” Ruckus says. “If you had told me 10 years ago that people would be coming to me like I’m a doctor and asking me to help save the lives of their children or their parents or even their dog, I’d have been like, ‘Oh, fuck off. There’s no way.’ But we’re seeing the results [of medical marijuana]. It’s irrefutable shit now.”