Drug policy experts have made the point for years that the biggest consequence stemming from marijuana is being caught with it, making many wonder why it can turn otherwise innocent non-violent people, into convicted felons. This is clear in the case of Devotre Thomas, a 19 year old in Oregon who is facing up to a year in prison and fines for only a single gram of marijuana. Oregon legalized recreational marijuana for adults in 2014, but the federal government has not prosecuted a marijuana possession case in the state since 2011. So why step in now for such a small crime? Prosecutors expected Thomas to plead guilty, accepting his 6 month treatment program and a federal drug conviction which takes a toll when trying for student loans, a job, and even a home. But instead Thomas' laywer announced he would take it to trial and fight the case. Now he is risking up to a year in prison and fines, all because of a single gram of cannabis which is recreationally legal within the state. Is this how the American legal system should be spending it's time and money?
"Why continue to try to ruin people’s lives?" asked Russ Belville, founder of the Portland chapter of the pro-marijuana group NORML, to KGW. "Make it tough for this kid to get a job, to be able to apply for college scholarships, to get security clearances, to own a home?"
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon told KGW that "I don't want kids using marijuana, 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."
Thomas's case illustrates a concern many drug policy experts have raised for years — that most of the harms associated with marijuana use come not from using marijuana but from the punishment offenders receive at the hands of the criminal justice system.