Federal prosecutors in Oregon have dropped all charges against a 19-year-old Native American teenager accused of possessing less than a gram of cannabis after a national outcry led members of the state’s congressional delegation to speak out.
Devontre Thomas, who graduated from Chemawa Indian School earlier this year, has entered into a pretrial diversion agreement with the Oregon U.S. attorney’s office. Under the terms of the agreement, the government will dismiss the pending charge if Thomas obeys all laws and remains at work or in school for the next 60 days, according to a document filed Thursday in federal court.
Thomas’s attorney, Ruben Iniguez, was puzzled about why the feds brought charges against the teenager in the first place. Iniguez, an assistant federal public defender, is used to handling high-profile federal cases. He was the court-appointed defender for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose protests against public lands policy led to last year’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff.
“I hope sincerely that other minors or even adults in our state, where marijuana is both recreationally and medically legal, don’t have to face this sort of persecution by the federal government for such a minor quantity of what’s now legal medicine,” Iniguez told Leafly.
Even though cannabis is legal at the state level in Oregon, it’s still federally illegal. That makes prosecutions like Thomas’s possible, albeit highly unusual.
Thomas was arrested, according to his lawyer, after admitting to paying another teenager $20 to purchase some cannabis. Though he didn’t have any in his possession at the time, according to Iniguez, investigators used the words “fragments,” “debris,” and “remnants” to describe what they found on one of Thomas’ friends.
Thomas “did not physically possess anything; it was another student who was in possession,” Iniguez told Leafly. It’s unclear whether Thomas’ friend was also charged in the incident.
Iniguez said that Thomas was “pleased to have it go away.” Thomas, a soft-spoken student, grew up on the Warm Springs Reservation in central Oregon. After community college, he hopes to transfer to a four-year college and major in science and the environment.