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Capitol Hill Officials Demand to Know Why a Native American Teenager Is Being Prosecuted for Cannabis

Wyden, Merkley and Blumenauer ask U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams who else he's charged with marijuana crimes since 2014.

Three members of Oregon's congressional delegation are demanding U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams explain why his office is prosecuting a Native American teenager for allegedly possessing a gram of marijuana.

In letter that will be mailed tomorrow, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, all Oregon Democrats, ask Williams to give them a full list of the marijuana crimes his office has pursued since 2014, when Oregon voters legalized recreational cannabis.

"Marijuana possession charges have declined in Oregon over the past few years, and we hope to see that trend continue," the delegation writes. "We hope that your office continues this focus on dangerous criminal activity, rather than pursuing crimes involving a substance legal in Oregon."

Last week, a WW cover story examined the prosecution of 19-year-old Devontre Thomas, who was a senior at Salem's Chemawa Indian School — an off-reservation boarding school run by the federal Bureau of Indian Education — when he was accused of buying a gram of cannabis in 2015.

More than a year after his alleged crime, Thomas was slapped with federal charges. Thomas has refused to plead guilty, and is risking a hefty penalty: up to year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokewoman Gerri Badden declined to comment on pending litigation.

When reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Thomas' public defender Ruben Iniguez was "ecstatic."

"I'm thrilled to learn that our representatives, despite their obviously busy schedules, are concerned that our federal resources are used to prosecute serious offenders, violent offenders and those persons whose records and actions make clear that pursuing their prosecutions are necessary to protect the public," Iniguez said, "And that the facts of this case make absolutely clear that Mr. Thomas is not even close to one of these persons and our resources shouldn't spent in this way. I'm glad to hear it."

The full text of the letter addressed to Williams is below.