DISH's firing of paralyzed medical marijuana patient backed by business biggies

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Since 2012, we've been reporting about DISH's firing of Brandon Coats, a paralyzed medical marijuana patient, after he failed a drug test.

Coats's lawsuit over the issue has failed in Arapahoe District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals. It's now headed to the Colorado Supreme Court, where powerful forces are lining up against him, including some of the most prominent business organizations in the state. Continue for details and a newly filed court document.

As we've reported, Coats, who's in his thirties, is paralyzed over 80 percent of his body. At age sixteen, he was a passenger in a vehicle that crashed into a tree.

Since then, Coats has used a wheelchair to get around, but he's fully capable of working -- and in 2007, he was hired by DISH as a customer service representative. Over the years that followed, his original lawsuit 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 his job during work hours or anywhere on the company's premises.

In May 2010, Coats was ordered to take a random drug test. He's said to have told the employee administering the test that he was an MMJ patient, but this wasn't taken into account when he registered a positive for THC. The agent who broke the news allegedly told him that his status as a patient didn't matter: "That is just Colorado state law and does not apply to your job." Two weeks later, Coats was fired for violating the company's drug policy.

Attorney Michael Evans subsequently took DISH to court, arguing that Coats's activities were constitutionally protected. But in February 2012, Araphaoe District Judge Elizabeth Beebe Volz granted DISH's motion to dismiss. Among the cases she cited to justify this ruling was one involving Jason Beinor, a medical marijuana patient sacked from his street sweeping job after failing a drug test.

In the wake of more judicial machinations, the Coats case reached the Colorado Court of Appeals. In a 2-1 decision, the court sided with DISH. Then, earlier this year, the Colorado Supreme Court decided to weigh in on the case, giving Coats one more chance.

In the interim, DISH has lined up some powerful allies. A newly filed brief finds the Colorado Civil Justice League asking the court for permission to weigh in on behalf of the telecom. The entities represented by the CCJL for this effort include:

• Denver Chamber of Commerce

• Mountain States Employers Council

• Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association

• Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry

• Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors

• National Federation of Independent Businesses

• Colorado Contractors Association

• Colorado Mining Association

• Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance

• Colorado Competitiveness Council

• Climax Molybdenum Company

• Association of General Contractors

Why do these organizations want the Supremes to echo the Court of Appeals ruling?

Continue for more about the latest development in the Brandon Coats case, including the complete motion. Given that Coats's use of marijuana took place during his free time, his actions fall under the provisions of Colorado's Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, known as LODAS.

The motion argues that Amendment 20, the 2000 measure that legalized medical marijuana in Colorado, "did not...make marijuana use lawful as that term is used in LODAS. As an amendment to the state constitution, Amendment 20 could not override or otherwise affect the federal law that for decades has made the possession and use of marijuana unlawful."

The distinctions between federal and state law are key to the CCJL, as is clear in the following passage. Note that the italics are in the original:

In passing LODAS, the Geaneral Assembly did not confine the term "lawful" to conduct permitted only by Colorado law. The Court may presume that the General Assembly understood that its use of the broad term "lawful" excluded from its protections employee conduct that is unlawful under any applicable law, whether federal, state, regulatory or local law.

The document goes on to note that "many employers are required to comply with federal laws like the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988, or U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, which among other things require the promulgation of policies prohibiting the use of marijuana and removing certain employees that have tested positive for marijuana use." As such, a Colorado law prohibiting the sacking of individuals like Coats would put employers in the position of breaking federal law.

In a statement, attorney Evans puts the motion in perspective. While the support of the CCJL interests is "not necessarily a surprise due to the national importance and precedence of this case," he maintains that their backing "further magnifies the disparity between one person -- Mr. Coats -- and large corporations" even as it legitimizes "the need for review and final ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court."

Here's the complete motion.

Brandon Coats Case: Motion for Leave for Amicus Brief

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa January 28: "DISH's firing of paralyzed medical marijuana patient heading to state supreme court."

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