In California, the 3rd District Court of Appeal just made a key cannabis-related ruling. Specifically, the court overturned the criminal convictions of five prisoners who were previously charged with having weed in their prison cells.
Obviously, this is an important decision for the prisoners involved. But it also has much broader implications.
Specifically, the California appeals court has now officially declared that it is legal for prisoners in the state to possess up to an ounce of cannabis in prison.
An Important Judicial Decision
The new decision came in response to the earlier conviction of inmates caught with weed.
When the five prisoners were originally caught with weed, they were hit with criminal charges—despite the fact that possession of marijuana is legal in California.
Following the conviction, the five inmates appealed the decision. And now, after reviewing the case, the appeals court has sided with the prisoners.
“According to the plain language of . . . Proposition 64, possession of less than an ounce of cannabis in prison is no longer a felony,” the court wrote in its decision. “Smoking or ingesting cannabis in prison remains a felony and prison regulations forbid possession.”
Upholding the Will of the Voters
The court’s decision is based largely on a very close reading of California’s legalization bills. In particular, the court said it was focused on upholding the specific wording of these laws because that’s what voters approved.
One section of California’s cannabis laws talks specifically about marijuana at Department of Corrections facilities. Importantly, that section says that consumption is not allowed by prisoners. But it does not say anything about possession.
“Thus, the electorate specifically addressed the issue of cannabis in prisons and expressly prohibited use, not possession,” the court’s decision said. “The plain language of the statutes is clear—possession of less than an ounce of cannabis is no longer a prohibited controlled substance . . . and, therefore, possession is no longer a felony, even in prison.”
The court added: “consumption, not possession, is the act the voters determined should remain criminalized if the user is in prison.”
For many who agree with the appeals court’s new decision, it’s all about honoring what voters approved.
“The voters made quite clear their intention to avoid spending state and county funds prosecuting possession of less than an ounce of marijuana,” Sacramento County Assistant Public Defender Leonard Tauman told local news source KTLA5. He also said that the court’s ruling “quite properly honored what the electorate passed.”
Possession, But No Consumption
Key in all this is the difference between possession and consumption. In fact, the courts are very clear on this point. The only thing that is legal is possession. Prisoners still cannot actually consume any weed.
That means that prisoners are legally allowed to own a bit of weed. But they can’t do anything with it other than possessing it.
Even more, this ruling does not mean prisoners won’t face punishment. That’s because the ruling only deals with criminal charges. Specifically, the ruling says inmates can’t be charged with a crime for possession of weed.
But they can still be punished for breaking prison rules. And that could lead to other penalties. Specifically, inmates could have good behavior time revoked. Or it could land a prisoner in solitary confinement.