Texas Teacher Shouldn’t Be Punished for Marijuana Use in Colorado, Judge Says

THE NEW YORK TIMES – By CHRISTINE HAUSERJAN. 23, 2017

Edibles available for sale in Denver only to medical marijuana patients. Credit Matthew Staver for The New York Times

A Texas high school teacher can use marijuana in Colorado, where it is legal, and should not get into trouble for it in her home state, where it is illegal, an administrative law judge ruled.
The Texas judge made the recommendation in a case involving Maryam Roland, who had taught science at Parkland High School in El Paso, Tex., and who told school district officials that she had ingested an edible marijuana product during Christmas break in Colorado in 2014-15.
The ruling was sought by the Texas Education Agency, which asked the State Office of Administrative Hearings to look into the case. The education agency had sought to suspend Ms. Roland’s license for two years after she tested positive for marijuana two years ago. She resigned in February 2015, but a suspension would have affected any effort to return to teaching, the documents showed.
But William G. Newchurch, the administrative law judge at the administrative hearings office, said that punishing Ms. Roland, 39, would be like taking action against someone who had gambled at a casino in Nevada and then returned to Texas, where gambling is illegal.
Judge Newchurch said he did not find Ms. Roland “unworthy to instruct,” and he recommended that the education agency, which oversees primary and secondary public education in the state, take no action against her teaching certificate.
“Possession of a usable quantity of marijuana is a criminal offense in Texas, but so is gambling,” the judge wrote. The judge’s decision was published by The Austin American-Statesman on Friday.
Lauren Callahan, a spokeswoman for the education agency, said in a telephone interview on Monday that the judge’s decision would not be the last step in Ms. Roland’s case. She said the State Board for Educator Certification would also have a say in the matter. Sanctions can include suspension, reprimands or revocation of the teaching certificate.
“I don’t think we have had this happen before,” Ms. Callahan said. “Specifically with the marijuana use, we have not seen a case like this before in terms of an educator’s certification and whether or not the educator is sanctioned.”

Ms. Roland’s lawyer, Nicholas J. Enoch, declined to comment on Monday. He also said he had instructed his client not to comment.
The case highlights some of the uncertainty that different state policies on marijuana pose for employees who use it, whether they live in states where it is legal or travel to states where it is not. Such cases are becoming more prevalent, legal experts say.
In the eight states where medical and recreational marijuana are legal, and in the 29 states where only medical use is legal, laws allowing private employers to set their own testing policies have not yet caught up.
“They have the right to drug tests, and employees are susceptible to being fired,” said Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an advocacy group.
One of the most closely watched cases occurred in, of all places, Colorado in 2015, when the State Supreme Court said that smoking marijuana off the job could still get an employee fired. That case involved a customer service worker, Brandon Coats, who used medical marijuana to soothe pain from a car accident that left him partly paralyzed. He was terminated from Dish Network in 2010 after testing positive for marijuana in a random drug test.
In Ms. Roland’s case, education authorities became aware of her marijuana use after a “disgruntled” former employee made references to drugs in emails mentioning Ms. Roland and other employees, according to the documents published by The American-Statesman. It was not immediately clear exactly what the references said.
Ms. Roland, who has had no disciplinary action on her record, resigned in 2015, the newspaper reported. In an interview with district officials, she said she had “occasionally” used marijuana, but not in more than a month and never at school. She said she had consumed an edible marijuana product in Colorado.
After she agreed to be tested, marijuana traces were found in samples of her hair, where evidence of it can remain for six months, the document showed.
The judge’s decision said the school district had no reasonable suspicion that testing would uncover evidence of work-related misconduct.
It was not immediately clear when, or if, Ms. Roland planned to return to the school. Mr. Enoch, her lawyer, declined to answer questions about whether she intended to renew her teaching certificate and try to teach again.

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