While a small number of states around the country have removed most legal restrictions on marijuana, Texas continues to classify it as a controlled substance. Beyond penalties under Texas drug crime law, marijuana use can result in professional sanctions, especially when a person’s career requires state licensure. State professional licensing boards require licensees to follow certain ethical or disciplinary rules. Last year, a Texas administrative law judge (ALJ) made an unusual recommendation in a case involving a teacher facing a license suspension for admitted marijuana use. The ALJ recommended that the teacher face no discipline because the alleged offense occurred in Colorado, where marijuana use is not illegal. Tex. Educ. Agency v. Roland, SOAH Docket No. 701-16-4719.EC, prop. dec. (Tex. SOAH, Jan. 10, 2017). The Texas Education Agency (TEA) ultimately decided not to pursue disciplinary proceedings.Under Texas law, the offense of possession of marijuana ranges from a Class B misdemeanor, for possession of no more than two ounces, to a felony punishable by life imprisonment if the amount exceeds 2,000 pounds. Tex. Health & Safety Code § 481.121. In Colorado, voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012, which amended the state constitution to make “marijuana…legal for persons twenty-one years of age or older.” Col. Const. Art. XVIII, § 16.
Teachers in Texas must have an “educator certificate” issued by the State Board for Educator Certification. Maintaining this certificate requires compliance with the Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics (COE). The complaint in Roland alleged violations of Standards 1.7 and 1.10 of the COE, which require that educators “comply with state regulations, written local school board policies, and other state and federal laws;” and that they “be of good moral character and be worthy to instruct or supervise the youth of this state.” 19 Tex. Admin. Code §§ 247.2(1)(G), (J). Other professional codes of conduct make more specific mention of drug laws. Physicians licensed in Texas, for example, may be subject to disciplinary proceedings for offenses involving “substance abuse or substance diversion…whether or not there is a complaint, indictment, or conviction.” 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 190.8(2)(R)(xii).
In 2015, the respondent in Roland was working for a public high school in El Paso, Texas. A former school district employee reportedly sent several emails to district administrators that February, alleging that another teacher was selling drugs. The emails provided a list of names, including the respondent’s, with no specific allegations against them.