Published: Fresh U. August 12, 2016. Viewable here.
Devontre Thomas, a 19-year-old who was caught with a single gram of marijuana at a small boarding school in Oregon at a federal-run boarding school will not have to face a federal court if he stays out of trouble and maintains 60 days of employment.
Thomas attended Chemawa Indian School, which he recently graduated from. Although recreational marijuana is legal in the state for those 21 and older, the substance is not federally legal, meaning that because Thomas’ school is federally-run, possession of the drug, in addition to his age, is a crime.
The federal charges seem even more severe when the fact that Thomas was not in possession of the single gram – the gram was found on another student who stated, with Thomas’ later confirming confession, that Thomas had bought it from him for $20 and thus the substance was en route – is taken into account.
The Willamette Week reported that federal charges, which might have possibly resulted in up to a year of prison time, a $1,000 fine and denial of such factors as government aid and public housing for his entire life, have been dropped under the aforementioned conditions.
This case is also significant because it highlights the racial disparity in regards to drug crime prosecution and sentencing in the state. Thomas is Native American. His friend, Rayvaughn Skidmore, gave Thomas a strong character reference to The Guardian, as well as stating his concerns with legal practices in the state.
Skidmore, who is also Native American, told The Guardian he felt that Native Americans were being unfairly targeted by the government. The ACLU also published evidence stating that African Americans in Oregon are twice as likely to be charged for marijuana-related crimes as caucasians.
The night before the charges against Thomas were dropped, three Oregon congressmen wrote an open letter to Billy Williams, the U.S. Attorney who had filed federal charges over the single gram.
“We write today deeply concerned about the drug prosecution priorities of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon and to request a full list of all marijuana possession crimes pursued by your office since 2014,” the letter states. “With heroin, methamphetamines, and opioids causing widespread harm to people across the state, your office has substantial drug enforcement priorities, other than the prosecution of simple marijuana possession crimes.
“President Obama has stated that “we have bigger fish to fry” than prosecuting state legal marijuana cases. We agree with this approach. There are opportunity costs in choosing to prosecute low level marijuana crimes rather than targeting criminal activity linked to violence. In particular, we have concerns with any approach that fails to take into account the devastating effects that marijuana possession convictions have on future employment and education prospects for those who are convicted, especially for a substance that has been decriminalized in Oregon since 1973. Fighting dangerous drug crimes and reducing the prevalence of these drugs and their effects should be the priority of your office.”