We’re Still Doing This: Teen Federally Charged For A Pittance Of Pot
August 1, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Yes, the United States government is still using its prosecutorial discretion and resources to charge someone with possessing a very small amount of pot. Anyway they slice it, the Oregon teenager who’s at the receiving end of this federal indictment is facing time in the can, and this could happen to anyone. From the Willamette Week:
On April 7, 2016, the U.S. attorney for Oregon filed a one-count federal misdemeanor charge against Thomas for possessing “about a gram” of marijuana, according to his public defender, Ruben Iniguez.
That’s barely enough cannabis to dust the bottom of a Ziploc.
It’s the first time in at least three years that the feds are prosecuting a weed crime in Oregon.
Since then, Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana. Anyone over 21 can walk into a store and buy up to a quarter ounce—7 grams—of cannabis. In the first five months of recreational sales, the state collected $14.9 million in marijuana sales taxes.
But weed isn’t equally legal everywhere in Oregon.
Just as we warned discussed here at Fault Lines last week, how jurisdictions differ on how they handle something like Bitcoin, this case shows just how the federal government can use it’s might to collar someone when most reasonable minds can agree that that person should’ve been left the hell alone.
Let’s ask the obvious: what’s the worst that could happen to any of us if this defendant had been allowed to get high as a kite in his room while listening to Jimi Hendrix Lil Wayne? Maybe some local pot dealer would’ve gotten some extra coin to finally buy a spoiler for his beloved Subaru? But while a law remains on the books, it is still a bludgeon that can be used, and not all prosecutors have the same perspective when it comes to charging decisions.
It is still illegal as per the federal code to possess any amount of pot, and the U.S. Attorney’s manual still advises federal prosecutors of all stripes to charge the most serious offense that is likely to result in a sustainable conviction. Ask any criminal defense attorney worth his salt, and he will tell you how frustrating it is to deal with a prosecutor who lacks any sense of perspective.
Remember the celebrity stoner, Tommy Chung? He did 9 months in the federal pen for selling glass pipes online, and the federal prosecutor who used taxpayer monies to send him there said her only regret was accepting a plea from him, wishing that he had done more time (she has since joined the “dark side”). Once your file ends up on the wrong kind of prosecutor’s desk, it can all go downhill fast from there.
As for Devontre Thomas, he was literally at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was a student at the Chemawa Indian School when he was arrested, which is operated by the Bureau of Indian Education, overseen by the U.S. government. Thomas has stood his ground, refused to cop a plea and has demanded a trial before a jury of his peers. It’s set for September 13.
One might think that the U.S. District Judge presiding over Thomas’ case, who is not bound by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, might give Thomas the proverbial slap on the wrist and sentence him to probation with a special condition of community service. But it’s never that simple folks, it never is:
A conviction could mean a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Federal charges can’t be vacated, so Thomas could be denied federal student loans, public housing and government aid for the rest of his life.
So even if the federal judge is not inclined to send Thomas to prison as part of his punishment for having the temerity of possessing some demon weed, Thomas’ plea can have some serious, irreversible, collateral consequences. Just like possession of an atom of any drug, 20 grams of weed can translate to a lifetime of banishment from this country for the undocumented. Thomas would have to bear the consequences of his plea well after he completed his sentence. This is not exaggeration, or unnecessarily amplifying the consequences of Thomas’ conviction. We’re only pointing out what’s on the books and in store for Thomas well after he has completed his plea colloquy before the judge.
Those blessed with a learned mind or sound judgment might be asking, “Don’t we have better things to do with our federal dime and time?” Why, yes. Yes we do. There has been outrage over how the U.S. government has responded to allegations of sexual assaults in Native American reservations. Some allege that the government should be prosecuting those kinds of crimes with the same gusto that it saves for drug crimes.
This is the arguendo aspect of this position: yes, for the sake of discussion, we will assume that weed is evil no matter the amount or who is found to be in possession of it. It’s just that our law enforcement resources are finite, and we’ve got much, much worse stuff to be going after that doesn’t involve teenagers like Thomas lighting up some pot.
Plus, when the people from Oregon refused to be treated like backward children and voted to make possession of small amounts of pot legally kosher, the state’s coffers filled up. Go figure, and show us the money!