The California Court of Appeals for the Third Appellate District has overturned the convictions of five men for possessing cannabis while in prison, according to a Courthouse News report. While the ruling effectively legalizes cannabis possession in prison by inmates in California, smoking or ingesting cannabis while incarcerated is still a felony and prisons are still allowed to ban it.
“According to the plain language of Health and Safety Code section 11362.1, enacted as part of Proposition 64, possession of less than an ounce of cannabis in prison is no longer a felony. Smoking or ingesting cannabis in prison remains a felony and prison regulations forbid possession.” – Justice Vance W. Raye, The People v. Goldy Raybon
Prosecutors in the case had attempted to argue that because consumption remains illegal that possession is also illegal; however, Raye contended that “argument flies in the face of the plain language of the statute and common sense.”
The defendants in the case were only charged with possession of cannabis and not accused of consuming or smuggling it into the prison. Decriminalization under Proposition 64 preempts conflicting statutes, the court ruled, including the 1949 law that bans “illicit substances” from prisons – and cannabis is no longer an illicit substance in the state.
The court called back to a 2006 case, People v. Harris, when the defendant was accused of smuggling in cannabis-infused wafers and olive oil when he surrendered to authorities for an unrelated crime. In that case, the court ruled that Harris was a qualified medical cannabis patient in the state and had a right to possess the products.
However, neither the Harris ruling nor the Raybon ruling change prison regulations regarding cannabis possession in prisons.
“Just because the electorate no longer characterizes possession of small amounts of cannabis as felonious conduct does not preclude prison authorities from banning possession to maintain order and safety in the prisons and other penal institutions,” Raye wrote.
Associate Justices Ronald B. Robie and M. Kathleen Butz concurred with the decision.
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