SACRAMENTO (AP) – Prison inmates are not legally allowed to own marijuana under California’s recreational pot law.
The judges said the appeals court’s 2019 ruling that allowed prisoners to have up to 28.5 grams of marijuana was against common sense. The Supreme Court sided with the attorney general, ruling that the state’s voter-approved marijuana law did not apply to Californians in jail.
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“It seems implausible” that voters intended to essentially decriminalize marijuana in prisons, deputy judge Joshua Groban wrote for the majority.
“We agree with the Attorney General that if the drafters had intended to change the laws on cannabis in prison so dramatically, we would expect them to have made their goals clearer,” he wrote.
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, which is also illegal in its prisons, in 1996. Twenty years later, voters approved Proposition 64, which established the world’s largest legal recreational pot market. Individuals 21 and over can legally own up to one ounce of marijuana.
Cannabis is now legal in some form in more than 30 states. However, Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marihuana Laws, said he knew of no state that allows either recreational or medicinal cannabis in prison.
The California Supreme Court case arose out of the conviction of five men found in their cells with marijuana. The Sacramento 3rd District Court of Appeals overturned the convictions, ruling that state law made smoking or eating cannabis illegal in prison, but not specifically criminalizing its possession.
Other California appeals courts had ruled that possession of cannabis in prison was still illegal.
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In Supreme Court decision 5-2, Groban wrote, “While it may not be illogical to distinguish between possession and use of cannabis, it is still difficult to understand why voters exclude laws criminalizing cannabis possession in prison, but laws want to allow criminalization of cannabis use in prison. “
Assistant Judge Leondra Kruger agreed, in a partially dissenting opinion, that the election measure did not legalize cannabis possession in California prisons and prisons. However, she said it left the question of whether prosecutors could continue to prosecute as they did before, choosing between two overlapping criminal offense laws, one of which is tougher than the other.
Voters intended to give prisoners caught with cannabis a “limited leniency,” she argued, even if it did not decriminalize possession behind bars. She also said that because of the way the appeal was drafted, the court should not have raised the legality issue at all.
She was accompanied by another judge, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar.
The lower court said law enforcement officials could still ban possession as a violation of the rules, just as they did with alcohol or tobacco, but could not bring new criminal charges that could add years to prisoners’ sentences.
“We understand that (the law as it stands) creates an extreme discrepancy between how our legal system deals with possession of cannabis in general and possession of such a substance in a correctional facility. So do many other substances, including alcohol, ”wrote Groban.
“Some may view an eight-year prison sentence for possession of less than a gram of cannabis (one gram is the approximate weight of a single paper clip or a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar) as inappropriately harsh,” he wrote. “However, the wisdom of these political judgments is not relevant to our interpretation of the legal language.”
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