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Feds Dropping Charges Against Teen Who Faced A Year in Jail For One Gram of Pot


September 5, 2016

Eight days after Oregon’s Williamette Week published a story examining why the federal government would be prosecuting a Native American teenager for possessing “about a gram” of marijuana, the newspaper has reported that prosecutors have agreed to drop the charges.

According to an agreement filed last Thursday in federal court, the federal misdemeanor charges against 19-year-old Devontre Thomas will be dropped if he obeys the law and keeps a job for 60 days.

“I think it’s a fair resolution of the case,” Ruben Iniguez, Thomas’ public defender, told the Williamette Week. “I would sincerely hope that no one else, adult or minor, has to be faced with the same sort of dilemma—the heavy hand of the government.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that it is abandoning the case.

“Procedurally the case remains pending,” spokeswoman Gerri Badden said, “however, the motion correctly states the terms of the diversion agreement. Assuming Mr. Thomas completes the agreement, the United States will move to dismiss the case on October 4, 2016.”

Last Wednesday—one day before the deal was made to drop the charges—three members of Oregon’s congressional delegation released a letter to the U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams, demanding an explanation for Williams’ drug enforcement priorities and asking for a full list of the marijuana crimes his office has pursued since Oregon voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2014.

“Marijuana possession charges have declined in Oregon over the past few years, and we hope to see that trend continue,” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer wrote in the letter. “We hope that your office continues this focus on dangerous criminal activity, rather than pursuing crimes involving a substance legal in Oregon.”

The case filed against Thomas in April marked the first time in three years that the feds have prosecuted a weed crime in Oregon.

Because Thomas’ alleged mistake occurred at Chemawa Indian School, a boarding school operated by the federally-run Bureau of Indian Education, his conviction could have meant a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Worse, federal charges cannot be vacated, meaning Thomas would have faced denial for federal student loans, public housing and government aid for the rest of his life.

After the feds decided to drop Thomas’ charges, Rep. Blumenauer, released a statement urging federal prosecutors to avoid similar low-level marijuana arrests in the future.

“While I am pleased to see the U.S. Attorney drop the charges in the case of 19-year-old Devontre Thomas, I’m still concerned that this Office thought it was worth prosecuting in the first place,” he said. “My hope is that this sets a precedent that federal prosecutors should not be wasting time and resources on low level marijuana crimes.”