U.S. judge in Portland hears government position on pot, sentences bulk marijuana runner

U.S. judge in Portland hears government position on pot, sentences bulk marijuana runner

Two days after voters in Oregon legalized recreational use of marijuana last month, a federal judge in Portland delayed the sentencing of a Texas pot smuggler to get clarity on whether the U.S. Department of Justice’s position on the drug was shifting.

Bounlith “Bong” Bouasykeo, who pleaded guilty in July to smuggling up to 36 pounds of high-end cannabis at a time across state lines, was back in court on Thursday to conclude his sentencing hearing before Judge Michael W. Mosman.

Standing before Mosman, government prosecutor Geoff Barrow clarified the government’s position: “There has not been a change in the Department of Justice’s policies on marijuana.”

“What (Bouasykeo) did in this case is not consistent under (Oregon’s) Measure 91,” he said, “and it’s not legal under Texas state law.”

Barrow had previously asked Mosman to sentence Bouasykeo to 37 months in prison, but he revised that to 35 months because he had been in the custody of federal immigration officials for more than two months.

Bouaskyeo’s lawyer, Matthew G. McHenry, noted that the Los Angeles Times on Thursday carried a report that U.S. Department of Justice officials were going to tell its lawyers not to prevent Native American tribes from growing or selling marijuana on its sovereign lands.

“This court can be a leader in sentencing (of marijuana cases) and should do that,” McHenry said.

This appeared to ruffle Mosman.

“I reject that I’m supposed to play some leadership role in marijuana policy,” he said.

Mosman said his job was to find a fair sentence for Bouasykeo, who he noted had a somewhat troubling criminal history but had made improvements in his life while awaiting trial outside of jail.

The judge sentenced Bouasykeo to 2½ years in prison and ordered him to turn himself in to the U.S. Marshals Service on Jan. 22, 2015, to begin his sentence.

— Bryan Denson

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