The title alone is enough to infuriate anyone that supports medical marijuana. Brandon Coats, a paralyzed medical marijuana patient in Colorado, was fired from his job at the Dish Network after he tested positive for weed in a routine drug test. Now, as an appeal on the firing is weighed in Colorado courts, as many as 175,000 medical marijuana patients in the state could face a similar fate as Mr. Coats; losing their job for using a substance that they have a prescription for.
Dish Network is not commenting on specifics of the case, but Westword has dug up a 2010 letter than argues that “as a national company with more than 21,000 employees, Dish Network is committed to its drug-free workplace policy and compliance with federal law, which does not permit the use of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes.”
Coats, who is paralyzed in nearly 80% of his body after a car accident in his teens, is still fully capable of working and was hired by Dish as a customer service representative in 2007. Westword continues with the story:
Over the years that followed, the suit contends that prescription medicine Coats took to treat involuntary muscle spasms began to fail. When searching for a way to deal with these symptoms, his physicians recommended that he supplement his regimen with medical marijuana. He received his state-issued license for MMJ in August 2009 and found that cannabis helped alleviate his spasms. However, the complaint stresses that he never used marijuana at work, during work hours or anywhere on the company’s premises.
Cut to May 2010, when Coats was ordered to take a random drug test. According to the suit, he told the employee administering the test that he was a medical marijuana patient. But his status wasn’t taken into account when he registered a positive reading for THC.
Upon learning of these results a few days later, Coats again noted that he was a medical marijuana patient. In response, the agent sharing the news allegedly said, ‘That doesn’t matter. That is just Colorado state law and does not apply to your job.’
Dish concedes the point that all of Coats’ reviews were satisfactory and that he was never suspected of being high on the job. Now, after an initial court case to save Coats’ job was thrown out, this appeal could be the last line of defense for any medical marijuana patient who faces losing their job because of drug testing.
Dish, in turn, is making life as difficult as possible on Coats, as they have filed a claim seeking $44,000 in court fees from their sacked former employee. And, the situation gets murkier for the Colorado courts, as Coats’ attorney points out, that if the state sides with corporations, they could be setting themselves up for a number of unemployment benefit payments while hurting a relationship with the medical marijuana community that has been very helpful in the state’s budget crisis.
Will Coats get his job back? Does Dish Network have a right to enforce a drug policy that differs from the state?