July 11th, 2015

Video: Quadrapaligic Brandon Coats Talks Losing Job Over Medical Marijuana Use with CNN’s Smerconish

Please Credit Reference & Usage: “CNN’s Michael Smerconish 

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic since age 16, was fired from Dish Network over use of medical marijuana. Coats sued Dish Network and lost.


 Smerconish airs Saturdays at 9amET and replays at 6pmET

 MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST:  Brandon Coats is joining me now.

Brandon, do you think that smoking pot made you a better employee?

BRANDON COATS, FIRED OVER USE OF MARIJUANA:  I would say that it definitely made me a better employee.

SMERCONISH:  How come?

COATS:  If I don’t smoke marijuana — if I don’t smoke marijuana, I get like debilitating muscle spasms.  I’m a C4, C5 quadriplegic, so the messages between my lower body and my brain, you know, they don’t — they don’t get sent through.

So, when my body sends a message to my brain, it gets sent back and makes my muscles spasm intensely.  It’s like the muscles flex as hard as they can.  The thing is, is that, it’s just doesn’t stop after that.  It goes on and on and on if I didn’t smoke marijuana.  I would be spasming 24 hours a day, you know, seven days a week, and I wouldn’t be able to work because I wouldn’t be able to sit down a desk still, and it makes me sick, I get nauseous, I get hot.

So, I don’t think that, you know, it makes it so I can’t work.  It makes it so it enhances my ability to work.

SMERCONISH:  But it would have made it much more difficult for you to carry out your job responsibilities at Dish if you couldn’t smoke pot.  And again, I want to underscore, on your own time.

COATS:  That’s correct.  You know, I never used at work.  I was never intoxicated at work.  I did it in the evening on my own time.  You know, I’d smoke some marijuana, I’d be intoxicated for maybe 20, 30 minutes.  It was gone after that.

You know, I’d wake up the next day, I’d go to work, you know, perfectly sober, and I was never intoxicated at work.  My — I was always getting 100 percent QAs, good job reviews.  I have never had bad ones.  Never a write-up, nothing like that.

SMERCONISH:  And fair to say that you played by the state rules.  You did everything by the book, you had the card.  You were registered.  And, in fact, when Dish came to you and said, here is a random drug test, you said, I’m not going to pass this thing, because I’m legally smoking pot.

COATS:  Yes, that’s correct.  I went into work one day, and my supervisor came up to me and he was like, you know, they want to talk to you in human resources.  So, I go up to human resources and there was a sign on the door that says “random drug test”.

So, I go in there and I told the girl I’m not going to pass this test.  And she’s like, you know, I just work here.  So, she did a mouth swab.  It’s what the test was, and after that, I — you know, I went home.  Two days later, they actually called me at the lab that administers the test, and, you know, obviously, I didn’t pass.  I knew I wasn’t going to.

So, I went into my how man resource office and talked to the manager and let her know that, you know, I smoke medical marijuana.  I have a red card, a medical marijuana card.  And she said, well, we have never had this come up before.  So, she took a copy of my card, and said, we are going to deliberate on what we’re going to do, talk to people who were higher up and we’ll get back to you.

Well, for two weeks, they let me work and they actually got the reviews from my managers and supervisors.  They actually met with me a couple of times, and asked me different questions.  And after two weeks, I come in on a Monday and go to swipe my card to get in the handicap entrance, and the door wouldn’t open.  There was a security guard there to meet me.

So, we go up to the human resources office and they let me that — you know, they were going to terminate my employment.

SMERCONISH:  Brandon, I’m on your side.  I’d be a hypocrite if I weren’t on your side, and it’s not because I’m smoking pot, but I enjoy a martini at night.  This to me is akin to CNN  saying to me, you can’t have a martini at happy hour and come to work on a Saturday morning and host our television program.

But let me play devil’s advocate.  What would you say to someone who says, look, an employer has the right to determine and set the rules for their workforce, and if you don’t like it, you ought to work somewhere else?

COATS:  Well, what I’d say is, one of the places, like you said, you could go home and have a drink.  In my view, or from my experience, alcohol is much more intoxicating than marijuana.  You know, if I have too much alcohol, I can’t function.  If I have — the more and more marijuana I smoke, just the bigger my headache gets if I smoke too much.  I smoke a little bit.  It alleviates my spasms and I’m able to function for the rest of the day.

In my view, why would we — why would we pass a law saying that, you know, we could smoke medical marijuana and then, at the same time say, if you need this medicine, you can use it but, guess what, if you do use it, you can’t work?  I don’t know how many states are — you know, have medical marijuana now.  I know it’s a lot.

SMERCONISH:  Twenty-three.

COATS:  And there’s probably hundreds and hundreds — yes, that means there is hundreds and hundreds of thousands if not more than a million people who are on a medical marijuana — or have a medical marijuana card and use medical marijuana.  What that would do is that would say, hey, all these — you know, a couple of million people, about (ph) hundred of thousand, however many it is, guess what, you can’t work.

SMERCONISH:  Here is the way I look at it — Brandon Coats was fired for taking his medicine.  That’s how I’d sum it up.

COATS:  That’s what I’d say too.

SMERCONISH:  Brandon Coats, thank you so much for being here and good luck to you.

COATS:  Hey, thank you very much and thanks for having me on.