This Disabled Man Was Fired for Taking the Only Medicine That Works for Him

This is Brandon Coats.

Source: AP

And Brandon Coats uses marijuana.

Coats has a spinal injury that confines him to a wheelchair and causes violent muscle spasms. Despite pursuing other medical treatments, Coats' only stable and reliable treatment was cannabis, which he consumed regularly to relieve his excruciating pain and spasms. But three years ago, Coats' employer, Dish Network, fired him from his job as a customer service representative for testing positive for marijuana.

Following his termination, the Huffington Post reported that Coats sued Dish Network and lost. Then, the Colorado Court of Appeals found in favor of the company's right to fire him for testing positive. Coats and his lawyer appealed again, and now the Colorado Supreme Court will hear the case next month.

What's at stake: At issue is whether an employer can legally impose mandatory drug testing, specifically for a substance that's either recreationally or, in this case, medically, legal in that particular state. 

Much of Coats' defense rests on Colorado's anti-discrimination law called the Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute that prohibits employers for terminating employees over legal activities outside the workplace. There are exceptions to the law, and even a ruling in his favor won't save Coats' job.

But an important precedent will be set. 

"I think I'm a good person to do this," Coats told the Huffington Post. "This happened to me. There's nothing I can do about it. But what I can do is maybe prevent it from happening to someone else."

This is a major growing pain of the transitional period that we are undergoing right now. As a patient, Coats should have the right to any medicine that treats his condition. As the New York Times points out, as a number of recent court decisions have upheld corporate personhood, the threat of exploitive drug testing policies continues to loom, demonstrating just how entrenched in pot prohibition we truly are.

Even in a state with legal medical and recreational marijuana, companies haven't done anything to ensure that they are adapt to changing laws, nor are they required to. If corporations are going to be treated like humans, shouldn't there be a requirement for some element of humanity?

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Abdullah Saeed

Abdullah Saeed covers drug policy, focusing on newly forming cannabis legislation in the US. He is the author of VICE's "Weediquette" column as T. Kid. His work has appeared in High Times, Huffington Post, Paper, and Village Voice, among others.

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