Inmates in prison are not allowed to possess recreational marijuana while incarcerated, according to a new ruling by the California Supreme Court. The court overturned a lower court’s decision that held prisoners were allowed to have the drug, so long as they didn’t use it.
The case, California v. Raybon, involves five inmates in a California state prison who were convicted on felony charges after being found with marijuana in their cells. The men appealed to the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento, which overturned their convictions after determining that while they could not legally eat or smoke pot in prison, possession of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense. As our Los Angeles marijuana defense lawyers can explain, this ruling conflicted with those of other appellate courts.
The state supreme court weighed in after a challenge from the state attorney general. In a split 5-2 ruling, the high court held that Prop 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in California, was not applicable to prison inmates. The majority opinion held that there as nothing in the ballot materials for the law that indicated voters had considered or were even aware of how this might impact possession of the drug in prison. The court stated, “it seems implausible that the voters intended to essentially decriminalize marijuana in prison.”
Had the public intended to alter the laws and policies regarding possession of cannabis in prison settings, they would have stated so explicitly, the court ruled. Further, it would make no sense that voters would wish to continue to criminalize the consumption of cannabis in prison, yet allow inmates to legally posses it.
The court stated it was sympathetic to the assertion that state law allows for a wide disparity in the way it treats possession of cannabis outside a correctional facility versus how it is managed inside, but noted the same is also true for other substances – alcohol included. These inmates were given an eight-year prison sentence for possessing less than one gram of cannabis. The court agreed that this could be viewed as “unduly harsh.” However, the court stipulated that it was not in the business of judging the wisdom of public policies. Instead, it’s the court’s responsibility to interpret the statutory language.
The two dissenting justices disagreed with the ruling in part. They did not take issue with the matter of the drug’s legality; in fact, they conceded that marijuana was not legal for prisoners under Prop. 64. The dissent was based on concern about how prosecutors might opt to file charges when statutes overlapped, favoring those that allowed for harsher penalties.
Still, the majority ruling was no real surprise. Many other state appellate courts have held the same, and arguing the legality of keeping marijuana in prison was always going to be something of a long shot.
Those who are charged for possession of marijuana in prison will require the services of an experienced marijuana criminal defense lawyer, as they will continue to face the harshest penalties on the books. Our dedicated team of L.A. marijuana lawyers can help.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, ancillary companies, patients, doctors and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
California v. Raybon, June 11, 2019, California Court of Appeals for the 3rd Appellate District