PORTLAND, Ore. -- An Oregon teen facing a federal marijuana possession charge entered into an agreement Wednesday that could result in the charge being dropped before November.
Devontre Thomas, a 19-year-old who graduated from Chemawa Indian School in Salem last spring, must remain employed or in school and not break the law during the next 60 days. If he meets those requirements, the federal government will dismiss the charges.
Thomas' attorney, Roben L. Iñiguez, said his client is currently working and not enrolled in school.
As part of the agreement, called pretrial diversion, the trial date was postponed until Oct. 13, 2016, which will allow Thomas to show he has met the terms of the agreement.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer weighed in on the decision Thursday.
“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.”
On Thursday, Blumenauer, along with two other Oregon lawmakers, sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney in Oregon raising concerns about how his office prosecutes marijuana possession cases.
“We write today deeply concerned about the drug prosecution priorities of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon,” the letter reads. It was signed by Blumenauer, Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley, all Democrats.
The letter was in response to a KGW investigation highlighting Thomas' controversial case.
Thomas’ lawyer said his client wasn’t actually caught with any marijuana, but admitted to buying $20 worth of pot from another teenager.
In the letter, the three lawmakers argued that drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and opioids all cause more harm in Oregon than small amounts of marijuana.
“Your office has substantial drug enforcement priorities, other than the prosecution of simple marijuana possession crimes,” the letter says. It is addressed to Billy Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Oregon.
Thomas told KGW in June that he’s scared at the prospect of having a conviction for a federal crime on his record.
“That’s what scares me,” he said. “Stuff like that hanging over your head.”
The lawmakers laid out similar concerns to Williams.
“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,” the letter says. “Fighting dangerous drug crimes and reducing the prevalence of drugs and their effects should be the priority of your office.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office said they do not comment on pending litigation.
Thomas’ case has gained some national attention since KGW first reported it. The Willamette Week ran a cover story last week. The Washington Post and The Guardian have also both since picked up the story.
Federal prosecutors use a document called the Cole Memorandum to guide their marijuana prosecutions. The document lays out eight priorities when it comes to marijuana. Top among them: preventing minors from getting marijuana.
Even though Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana, Thomas could not legally possess pot under the law because he is not 21 years old.
Text of letter from Blumenauer, Wyden and Merkley to U.S. Attorney Billy Williams:
August 4, 2016
Dear Mr. Williams:
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. 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.
We recognize that marijuana remains a Schedule I Substance under the Controlled Substances Act, but your office retains prosecutorial discretion in expending scarce legal resources in pursuit of those priorities that will make the biggest difference to Oregonians. 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.
Marijuana possession charges have declined in Oregon over the past few years, and we hope to see that trend continue. We hope that your office continues this focus on dangerous criminal activity, rather than pursuing crimes involving a substance legal in Oregon. We look forward to receiving your response.