Marijuana: Brandon Coats filing argues using MMJ is a lawful activity

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As we've previously reported, the original complaint was pressed in Araphaoe District Court by attorney Michael Evans on behalf of Coats, who's in his early thirties and 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, 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.

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.

Evans took DISH to court, arguing that Coats's activities were constitutionally protected. But in February, District Judge Elizabeth Beebe Volz granted DISH's motion to dismiss, and 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.

As we've noted, the elements of the Coats and Beinor matters aren't identical; the latter dealt with an unemployment benefit claim, not his firing. Yet Volz described the circumstances as "substantially similar," and she noted that the Beinor finding came up in a Court of Appeals opinion in a subsequent matter, People v. Watkins; that dispute involved an MMJ patient on probation who was told he couldn't medicate without violating his parole. Watkins "interpreted the Medical Marijuana Amendment" -- Amendment 20 -- "as merely providing 'an exception from the state's criminal laws for any patient in lawful posession of a "registry identification card" to use marijuana for medical purposes,'" she wrote.

Continue reading about the Brandon Coats case and see the latest brief below.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts