Oregon Teen Facing Federal Charges for 1 Gram of Marijuana

By - August 8, 2016
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A teenager in Oregon is getting ready to head off to college like many young Americans, but hanging over his head is a huge problem: a federal drug charge.

The Department of Justice has charged Devontre Thomas with the federal crime of possessing a gram of marijuana. While this is a misdemeanor, it still is a federal crime charge, and the consequences could be dire for his future, if convicted.

This federal charges case is a good indicator of how the US government continues to prosecute small time drug criminals, many of whom are simply caught with holding a very small amount of marijuana. Some advocates for these accused wonder if the federal government should have better things to do with its time than to prosecute teenagers with small marijuana offenses. Further, Oregon legalized pot two years ago, yet still is pressing charges against the young man. Many others are in the same situation; the federal government charged 2349 people in the US with marijuana possession last year. Before Thomas, there was not one federal marijuana charge in Oregon in five years. Federal prosecutors have not stated why they decided to prosecute Thomas. A spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office would not comment as the case is pending. The federal case was filed in April 2016, which is one year after the alleged crime happened. His attorney states that the man did not have any pot on him, but he did pay another teen $20 for some of the drug. Assistant Federal Public Defender Ruben Iniguez says that federal agents used words such as ‘debris,’ ‘fragments,’ and ‘remnants’ to describe the pot that they found on Thomas’ friend. It is not known if that teenager faces charges as well.

Strict Federal Laws

Current federal law does not distinguish how much pot the person is allegedly carrying. Possessing any quantity of pot is punishable by as much as a year in jail and a $1000 fine. While most of these types of charges do not result in prison time, they will leave a serious black mark on one’s record. On August 29, 2013, former Deputy Attorney General James Cole released guidance to all US Attorneys about enforcing federal laws on marijuana possession. That memo is serving as a new playbook that federal prosecutors use to deal with these cases. The Cole Memo stated eight top priorities that are important to the US government. Tops on the list is to cut down on marijuana distribution to minors. Even though there was a very small amount of marijuana in this case, the feds still moved forward. Oregon law states that Thomas was not allowed to have pot because he is under 21. It only is legally for those 21 and over to use pot recreationally. Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer stated recently that while he does not want young people to use pot, he thinks federal law is being used too heavily in this case. He added that there are many more serious issues to worry about at the federal level.

Update – Charges Dismissed

The good news for the young man in this case is that last week, the US government did agree to dismiss federal charges against him. However, he must work or attend school and may not break any laws for the next 60 days.,

Blumenauer, as well as Senator Ron Wyden sent a letter to the Oregon US Attorney stating concern for the fact that that office was prosecuting such a minor case.

About Federal Drug Charges

As this case clearly illustrates, the federal government is very serious about prosecuting drug possession charges, even when the amounts of drug are very small. While the young man in this case was probably facing only a simple possession charge, a conviction could have made it very difficult him to ever get a decent job, rent an apartment or buy a home.

Until recently, most federal drug charges had mandatory minimum prison sentences that required the convicted to serve at least one or two years in prison. In these cases, many small time drug offenders were having to do hard time of up to three or five years for some simple possession cases.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who left officer in 2015, signalled that the DOJ was not going to pursue mandatory minimums in some simple drug possession cases.

This case should serve as a stark warning to people who use marijuana and are under the age of 21. Even in states that have passed laws allowing the recreational use of this drug, if the person is under 21, he or she still can face federal charges.

Of course, if the person engages in any form of drug distribution or drug trafficking, all bets are off. The federal government will prosecute aggressively any person who is caught trafficking in illegal drugs.