Oregon’s historic marijuana vote prompts federal judge to push pause button on pot dealer’s sentence
The sentencing of a bulk marijuana runner was delayed on Thursday in Portland so that a federal judge could clarify the U.S. government’s evolving view of the drug in light of Oregon’s historic vote to legalize it.
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman set over the case of U.S.A. v. Bounlith “Bong” Bouasykeo until Dec. 11.
Bouasykeo pleaded guilty last July to taking part in a conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with the intent to distribute shipments of marijuana that ran up to 36 pounds, according to a government sentencing memo. The pot sold for up to $ 3,500 a pound.
He flew in from Texas expecting to be sentenced for his crime on Thursday. But Oregon’s voters on Tuesday legalized recreational use of the drug, which put Mosman in something of a quandary.
The judge said he was reluctant to send someone to prison today only to find out later that the view of the U.S. Department of Justice had evolved on crimes involving marijuana.
Technically speaking, no amount of marijuana is legal in the eyes of federal law. But federal agents typically have only targeted illegal cannabis plantations, often on federally managed land.
Mosman told the court that he read a story in The Oregonian in which U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said Tuesday’s passage of Measure 91, which legalized recreational use of marijuana, won’t change how her office views the drug.
Marshall noted in the interview that she was particularly concerned about how Oregon will keep marijuana from leaking to the black market, a problem confronted by Colorado officials since pot was legalized in 2012.
“I’m unsurprised by Ms. Marshall’s opinion,” Mosman said.
The judge acknowledged that he’s wrestling with a philosophical question about what people across the U.S. and Oregon think about marijuana. In the past, he noted, Congress has placed pot high on its list of dangerous drugs.
“I think I know what the people of Oregon think about the possession of marijuana,” said Mosman. But he noted that Bouasykeo wasn’t some college kid smoking a joint.
“It was a pretty serious enterprise … even for Oregon,” he said. “A fairly serious illegal enterprise.”
Mosman set the case over until Dec. 11 at 11:30 a.m.
— Bryan Denson