In the fall, recent high school grad Devontre Thomas could be heading off to college — or he could be going to prison.
According to Thomas' lawyer, the 19-year-old could face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine for allegedly carrying a gram of weed.
According to the Washington Post, Thomas' case marks the first time federal authorities have prosecuted someone for marijuana possession in Oregon, where recreational marijuana is legal, in five years. "Situations like this are best left to be handled by the state," Sen. Jeff Merkley, from Oregon, told Willamette Week, the Post reported.
Nonetheless, after refusing a plea deal that would require Thomas to enter a six-month treatment program and earn him what the Post termed the "lifelong burden of a federal drug conviction," the 19-year-old will go to trial.
The Post reported that while it may seem unusual that the teenager is facing federal charges, it's likely because Thomas, who is Native American, was allegedly caught with the goods at a Native American boarding school operated by a bureau of the federal government.
Thomas' situation, though, is emblematic of a larger trend in the United States disproportionately affecting people of color, though the bulk of such statistics focus only on black-versus-white arrests. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person — and this trend still holds even in states where possessing small amounts of weed is legal or, at the least, decriminalized. Even in Colorado, the first state, along with Washington, to allow the recreational use and sale of marijuana, that rate holds steady at 3.1 times more likely.
In cases like Thomas' especially, it becomes clear what's at stake when drug possession laws target minority groups.
"I don't want kids using marijuana," Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer told KGW Portland, "but to have the heavy hand of the law in a case like this — when there are so many other much more serious issues — I think is a misallocation of resources."