When looking upon the most cannabis-friendly states in America, Oregon is certainly place towards the top of that list. But, the Beaver State’s lax marijuana laws don’t necessarily apply at to Chemawa Indian School, which is an Oregon-based boarding school for Native American students that is run by the federal Bureau of Indian Education. This means that the school essentially functions under the laws of federal jurisdiction, and for the 19-year-old recent Chemawa graduate Devontre Thomas, this fact could potentially diminish his bright young future.
Back in March 2015, authorities found marijuana in another student's backpack, who claimed that it was sold to him by Thomas. This led prosecutors to hand down a federal charge to Thomas for possessing a single gram of marijuana, an especially minuscule amount in a state like Oregon. Although prosecutors expected Thomas to plead guilty to the possession charge and enter a six-month treatment program this past July, his lawyer announced that they would fight the charge and request a jury trial.
With Oregon’s progressive cannabis law, a jury trial may seem like a great move for the defendant to seek, but there are also much larger repercussions if the charge sticks. A guilty verdict could lead to a year-long prison stint and a $1,000 fine, but the plea deal would have left Thomas with a federal drug conviction, which as we know would severely limit his opportunity to secure student loans, a job, or a place to live.
Thomas grew up on Oregon's Warm Springs Indian Reservation, which could be a major reason why he’s receiving the unfortunate crackdown. As a member of a minority community, which has generally received the brunt of harsh marijuana enforcement, it may not be a coincidence that Thomas is receiving such a strict punishment.
According to the court statement written by Billy J. Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, Thomas “knowingly and intentionally possessed marijuana”. Well, yeah, Mr. Williams, a lot of people in the state of Oregon are “guilty” of the same exact “crime”. In response to the absurd charges, Oregon lawmakers and politicians have been sounding off on Williams.
"There's absolutely racial disparity in how these cases are charged," said Amy Margolis, a lawyer at Emerge Law Group, a Portland firm that specializes in cannabis cases. "[Thomas] had the bad luck of being where and who he was."
Disdain on the case came down from U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) as well, who MERRY JANE had the pleasure of speaking with during the recent Democratic National Convention. "I think it's deplorable,” the Oregon State Representative said. “What are we doing? Where are our priorities? A kid? Turning his life upside down? They don't have anything better to do to protect young people or Oregonians? It's incomprehensible to me."
Most of Oregon population is likely dumbfounded by the fact that the federal government is going after such a minor case, considering that they haven’t prosecuted a marijuana possession case in five years. But, unfortunately, the federal government feels they have jurisdiction over the future of the 19-year-old high school graduate. Whether or not the state of Oregon and their criminal justice system can help spare this young man from an impending federal charge remains to be seen.