Medical marijuana: Patient fired for failing DISH drug test finds possible loophole

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We've recently shared with you the story of Brandon Coats, a paralyzed medical marijuana patient fired by DISH Network for failing a drug test. Coats's appeal is moving forward -- but it turns out he's not the only MMJ patient with a case against DISH. Meet Sonny Meyers.

Meyers, who's 69, was hired by DISH in 2007, and over the next several years, he worked in a number of different capacities, including outbound sales and equipment verification -- he describes the latter as a "quasi-fraud investigation unit."

In the meantime, Meyers was dealing with ocular migraines. He's been getting them since he was a child, but in recent years, he says they've become more and more frequent -- and debilitating. "I've gone to doctors in the past," he says, "and basically they told me, 'When you get them, don't do anything where you need to see, like drive, and it'll pass.'"

Rather than taking this advice and merely gritting his teeth through the agony, Meyers began researching alternative treatments and came upon several references to medical marijuana -- or medical cannabis, as he prefers to call it. After receiving a doctor's recommendation, he became a patient in November 2010, and he found that the substance provided him with blessed relief for this long-entrenched problem.

Why didn't Meyers inform DISH that he had become a patient, or check with the human resources department beforehand? He says he consulted the company's employee handbook and saw nothing in it that would prohibit him from being a medical marijuana patient -- a status that's legal in Colorado, he stresses.

Then, in May of 2011, Meyers was given a random drug test, and he registered positive for THC even though he never used cannabis on the job. As our William Breathes has documented, THC can linger in a user's system for hours or days even when the individual in question is sober.

The results were passed to Meyers by "one of the technicians from the company that did the testing," he recalls. "They asked why I showed positive for THC, and I said, 'Because I'm a medical marijuana user. Don't you make any allowances for medical marijuana? Because it's legal in Colorado.' And their comment was, 'We follow federal law, not state law.'"

Immediately thereafter, Meyers was dismissed -- and the bad news didn't stop there. When he filed for unemployment, his claim was denied, prompting him to contact the Industrial Claims Appeals Office (ICAO).

During the process that followed, Meyers represented himself, just as did Jason Beinor, a medical marijuana patient fired from his street-sweeping job for failing a drug test. In the end, the Colorado Court of Appeals rejected Beinor's argument, and the state Supreme Court declined to take another look at the case, which has been cited in several subsequent legal controversies, including the one involving Coats.

As for Meyers, his effort seemed to be headed in the same direction -- but there was a twist.

Page down to continue reading about the Sonny Meyers case. At the ICAO level, "I was found to be the proximate cause of my dismissal," he says. "As a result of that, I was denied unemployment claims." But when he took his complaint to the Colorado Court of Appeals, where he once again represented himself, the jurists left one door open. According to him, the jurists noted that medical marijuana wasn't mentioned in DISH's drug policy guide -- "so they ordered the ICAO to show how I could have possibly known that medical marijuana was prohibited."

This edict, issued in late March, has potential repercussions not for state law, but for companies doing business in Colorado -- the implication being that legal medical marijuana patients fired for failing a drug test might have to be given their jobs back if the firm in question didn't specifically address MMJ in its employee guidelines.

Thus far, the ICAO hasn't responded to the Court of Appeals' demand, and no date has been set for it to do so. Meyers isn't surprised. In his words, "Colorado courts are loath to allow a precedent-setting decision favoring a pro se litigant, especially a decision that could impact hundreds of Colorado companies. So by letting me win without the benefit of the Court of Appeals issuing findings of fact and conclusions of law, they have effectively stonewalled the issue, barring the case from being published and disallowing other aggrieved employees from a legal remedy.

"This is a decision based upon the politics of capitalism and not the law of the land."

By speaking out about the situation, Meyers hopes he can shine a light on the alleged recalcitrance of the ICAO, not to mention a possible loophole for medical marijuana patients who are terminated from a job after testing positive for THC.

In the meantime, he's looking for a job. "Maybe I can work in a medical marijuana dispensary," he says.

Presumably, none of them require employees to be drug tested. And if they did, a positive for THC wouldn't be an issue.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: CO Supreme Court ruling leaves patients unprotected, plaintiffs say."

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