Marijuana | Seth Perlman

The Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned the 2017 convictions of five Sacramento men who were found with marijuana in their cells. | AP Photo/Seth Perlman

California inmates can legally possess marijuana after Prop. 64, court says

California inmates can now legally possess less than an ounce of cannabis on prison grounds in the wake of Proposition 64's legalization of recreational marijuana, a state appeals court ruled late Tuesday.

The Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned the 2017 convictions of five Sacramento men who were found with marijuana in their cells. In his opinion, Presiding Justice Vance W. Raye wrote that California penal code criminalizes the smoking or ingestion of cannabis in prison. But it doesn't address possession.

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When voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016, they legalized the possession of cannabis for all Californians — including those in prison — according to the court.

Department of Justice attorneys argued that the penal code can be interpreted to include possession as a felony and that allowing possession will put an extra burden on prison staff, but judges dismissed that argument. Prisons will still have the ability to regulate cannabis possession — just like with cigarettes or alcohol — but inmates will no longer have time added to their sentences if caught.

“While the court’s decision is still under review, we want to be clear that drug use and sales within state prisons remains prohibited," said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Vicky Waters. "CDCR is committed to providing a safe, accountable environment for prisoners and staff alike and we plan to evaluate this decision with an eye towards maintaining health and security within our institutions.”

The Attorney General’s Office now has to decide whether it will appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court. The AG's Office told POLITICO on today that it was still reading the opinion.

David Lynch with the Sacramento County Public Defender's Office, who worked on behalf of plaintiffs, lauded the decision and said it "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."

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