Inmates in California prisons can possess marijuana, a judge has ruled, thanks to a loophole in California’s recreational pot laws that failed to address the matter of possessing pot in prison. However, as The San José Mercury News reports, the ruling doesn’t mean that prisoners can actually smoke the pot (or eat it). Moreover, they can still be punished for violating prison rules if they possess it while in the joint.
Back in 2016, when California wrote its recreational marijuana laws, it seems that the committee forgot about making exceptions for people behind bars. So when five Sacramento-area inmates were caught with cannabis in their cells, the state, of course, threw the book at them.
The prisoners appealed, arguing that since the law didn’t exclude prisoners, they weren’t committing a crime by possessing pot. The 3rd District Court of Appeal agreed, although in their decision, the judges noted that the whole thing is rather weird.
“The question of law we review de novo is whether the plain language of the statute leads to an absurd result. We conclude it does not. A result is not absurd because the outcome may be unwise,” the decision reads in part.
The ruling is extremely narrow, however. It doesn’t, for example, allow the inmates to actually smoke their pot (or to eat it), as actually using cannabis inside California prisons is still a crime. Further, the ruling doesn’t say that prisons can’t forbid inmates from possessing cannabis. However, it can still be treated as a violation of prison rules, which means the prisoner can still be punished within the prison’s internal rules, as Lafayette attorney Dan Horowitz pointed out.
“It may be legal, but you can still ban it. Cellphones are legal. Pornographic images are legal. You can’t have either one in prison,” he said.
It’s just not treated as a crime for which additional time can be added to a sentence. And smuggling pot into prison is still a crime.
But if a prisoner somehow winds up with some pot, and wants to keep it in a jar next to his bed, perhaps ornamentally, and at risk of losing privileges, it’s not a crime.
Horowitz joked that the ruling may mean that movie night at minimum-security prisons will be considerably more enjoyable.
The ruling points out the disparity in laws among the 50 states over how pot possession is treated. Horowitz added that a man in Missouri is facing life in prison for importing cannabis from California into Missouri, while in California, prisoners can have it in their cells.