Sacramento, CA – An appeals court has ruled that California inmates can legally possess marijuana inside the state’s prisons, as long as they don’t consume it.
When the state voted to legalize recreational possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in 2016, they made no exception for prison inmates, the Third District Court of Appeal noted, according to the Associated Press.
California law does prohibit the consumption of marijuana in prisons, so using the drug would still constitute a felony criminal offense.
“Consumption, not possession, is the act voters determined should remain criminalized if the user is in prison,” the appeals court said in their 20-page ruling, which also overturned the criminal convictions of five inmates who had been charged for having the drug in their prison cells, according to The Mercury News.
Although they cannot be criminally charged by the state, inmates found in possession of cannabis may still face negative consequences through the prison administrative process, including segregation or loss of good behavior credits.
Those who possess marijuana could potentially still face federal prosecution if federal authorities decided to charge them under federal drug laws.
“The voters made quite clear their intention to avoid spending state and county funds prosecuting possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and quite clear that they did not want to see adults suffer criminal convictions for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana,” Sacramento County Assistant Public Defender Leonard Tauman said, according to the Associated Press.
Tauman said that the appeals court “quite properly honored what the electorate passed.”
Assistant Public Defender David Lynch also praised the court’s decision.
“This ruling will prevent inmates from having years added to their sentences for simple possession, reducing overcrowding and saving $50,000-75,000 a year in unnecessary costs,” Lynch declared.
But Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office blasted the court’s ruling and said that it essentially legalizes bringing drugs into the state’s prisons, the Associated Press reported.
“The Attorney General raises the same hackneyed and losing arguments in each case involving contraband in jails or prisons,” the three-judge panel wrote in their ruling. “The fact that the Attorney General may not agree with the voters does not empower us to rewrite the initiative.”
“A result is not absurd because the outcome may be unwise,” the judges wrote, according to The Mercury News.