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Court: California Pot Law Doesn't Extend to Inmates

Justices decide 5-2 that voters didn't intend to let prisoners have marijuana
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 12, 2021 5:05 PM CDT
Court: Pot Is Still Illegal for Inmates
An officer checks a car at the main gate of California's San Quentin State Prison last summer.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

(Newser) – Prison inmates can't legally possess marijuana under California's law allowing recreational pot, the state Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Thursday in overturning a lower court that found prisoners could have the drug as long as they didn't consume it. The justices said the 2019 appellate court ruling allowing prisoners to have up to 1 ounce—28.5 grams—of marijuana defied common sense. The high court sided with the state attorney general in finding the marijuana law approved by voters did not apply to Californians in prison, the AP reports. "It seems implausible" that the voters intended to essentially decriminalize marijuana in prisons, Associate Justice Joshua Groban wrote for the majority. "We agree with the Attorney General that if the drafters had intended to so dramatically change the laws regarding cannabis in prison, we would expect them to have been more explicit about their goals," he wrote.

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California in 1996 became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, and 20 years later voters approved Proposition 64 establishing the world's largest legal recreational pot marketplace. People 21 or older can legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Medical marijuana also remains illegal in California prisons. The Supreme Court case arose from the conviction of five men who had marijuana in their cells. The Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned the convictions, ruling that while state law made it illegal to smoke or eat pot in prison, it didn't specifically criminalize possession. Other California appeals courts had ruled that possessing cannabis in prison still was illegal. Associate Justice Leondra Kruger, in partial dissent, agreed that the measure did not legalize cannabis possession in prisons and jails. But she said it left open whether prosecutors could still file charges the same way they previously could, by choosing between what she called two overlapping felony statutes, one with tougher penalties than the other.

(Read more marijuana legalization stories.)

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