One of the most bizarre marijuana busts in recent history has just reached a more or less happy ending. Oregon teen Devontre Thomas will not be charged for possessing one gram of marijuana -- barely enough for a joint.
The case highlights just how confusing and conflicted America's marijuana laws are right now.
First off, Roben L. Iñiguez, the lawyer representing Thomas, says that his client wasn't actually caught with cannabis when this situation began in March 2015. Iñiguez asserts that Thomas simply admitted to buying a gram from a fellow student in Salem, Oregon. Admitting the purchase was apparently enough for him to be charged. Since the accused Thomas was 18 when the incident occurred, he was set to be charged as an adult, even though he is still considered a minor according to Oregon's state marijuana laws, which legalized recreational marijuana for those over 21 years of age.
Thomas - a Native American - was busted at the boarding school on his reservation. The Chemawa Indian School in Salem, OR is overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education, which is a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior. That means Thomas faced charges for violating federal law, which still prohibits recreational and medical marijuana. Cannabis is regulated like alcohol in Oregon, but the feds still define it as a drug that is as dangerous as heroin.
Thomas faced up to a year in jail for the single gram. However, Anthony L. Fisher of reason.com noted that first-time offenders like Thomas were more likely to receive a "deferred adjudication," meaning he wouldn't be sent to jail. Like other cannabis offenders, Thomas would forfeit the right to receive any government assistance - including access to public housing and student loans - in the future.
Thomas wasn't the only one in hot water. The case put the federal government itself in an awkward position. Even though the school is administered federally, the line where tribal sovereignty ends and the government's jurisdiction over Indian reservations begins is often unclear. Moreover, the idea of charging a Native American teen for a minor, non-violent cannabis infraction in a legal state was sure to draw ire from the cannabis community. Vince Sliwoski -- a lead attorney for Harris Moure's Canna Law Group -- told Civilized that the optics of the case were very poor for the government.
And that might be why the two sides came to an agreement instead of taking the case to trial. On August 4, KGW -- an NBC affiliate in Portland -- reported that both sides had reached an agreement that could stave off a disastrous trial. If Thomas - who has since graduated from the Chemawa Indian School - enrols in college or holds a full-time job, and he doesn't break the law for the next 60 days, the charges will be dropped. Since Thomas is currently employed, he just needs to hold down his job for two months to be in the clear.
Meanwhile, marijuana advocates like Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D--OR) are hoping that the case will set a precedent for low-level marijuana offences, not just in Oregon but in every state.
“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," Blumenauer said in a statement. "My hope is that this sets a precedent that federal prosecutors should not be wasting time and resources on low level marijuana crimes.”