Medical Marijuana Use for Disabilities

We all know about the controversy surrounding the legalization of marijuana in the United States, and just like all controversies, it’s never a black and white issue. There’s always a grey area, which is certainly the case for the disability community when it comes to medical marijuana use.

I have experienced the medical benefits of marijuana for a person with a spinal cord injury first-hand. And so have many of my colleagues in the ‘wheelers’ community. But unfortunately it is difficult for us to use freely to better the quality of our lives without persecution or judgment.

Let me explain. For a person with a spinal cord injury (SCI), marijuana can help significantly reduce, and even eliminate, many SCI “side-effects” like muscle spasms, diminished appetite, nerve pain, depression, and insomnia, to name a few. Yes, there are prescription medications that also help with these issues, but with pharmaceutical medications also comes many other unwanted side-effects. Marijuana is a natural medication without the ill-effects that come with prescription drugs.

Personally, I strongly believe in limiting the intake of as many chemicals into my body as possible. I also strongly believe that many prescription medications, which are legal, as well as alcohol use, are more harmful than marijuana has ever be proven to be. When was the last time you heard of someone overdosing on marijuana?

I recently read a compelling article about a quadriplegic man in Colorado who has garnered national attention with his story of fighting for his right for a better quality of life with the use of marijuana and keeping his employment at Dish Network. Brandon Coats, a medical marijuana patient (i.e. prescription from his doctor), was fired by Dish Network in 2010 for using medicinal marijuana on his own time in the privacy of his own home. Brandon had been a model employee, but Dish Network’s zero-tolerance policy on drug use, including marijuana, resulted in him being let go after testing positive in the company’s random drug screening program.

medical marijuanaBrandon was upfront and honest with his employer prior to taking the drug test, fully disclosing that he had a prescription for medical marijuana use to combat issues associated with quadriplegia. Yet, he was immediately terminated.

Brandon reported that he only used marijuana at home and before bedtime, and strictly for medicinal purposes in a state where it is legal for recreational purposes nonetheless. But because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, his employer was allowed to terminate his employment.

Like many in the disability community, he was dependent on his employment for his livelihood and of course, was devastated once it was lost. Another fact of life... in a wheelers world, employment is critically important to many of us, and most often more difficult to obtain and maintain due in part to our physical limitations, but more so because of stigmas associated with being a person with a disability.   Brandon sued the company for wages and benefits in 2011, maintaining that he had been illegally fired. His attorney argued that “the THC found in his body during the drug test did not prove that he was intoxicated at work, and that he never used marijuana on the job, never requested special accommodations for his medical marijuana use, didn’t exhibit poor job performance and never endangered the health or well-being of any person at Dish Network.” In 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals avowed the company’s right to fire Brandon, but earlier this year, the state’s Supreme Court announced it will hear the case.

This story is a perfect example of injustice to a person who should be able to choose how he or she will better their quality of life. I firmly believe that we should be able to decide for ourselves, how we treat medical issues that we face, living with a disability, without risking our employment. We should not be forced to rely on pharmaceutical drugs (man-made chemicals) to be able to live comfortably with a disability.

The government doesn’t legislate prescription medicine over a grandmother’s hot tea with honey and lemon for the common cold... a legitimate sick-day excuse for many employees and employers. So why can the bureaucrats call the shots for us?

What’s your perspective?

- Erika

Read Brandon’s story on Huffington Post