California prison inmates who possess small amounts of marijuana are not guilty of a felony crime, according to an appeals court, which reasoned that because it’s legal to have small amounts of pot in the state, the same is true inside its prisons. But the justices also said it’s still illegal to smoke or ingest cannabis in prison.
The ruling from a panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Sacramento overturns the convictions of five inmates who had been found guilty of possessing marijuana — convictions that added more prison time to their sentences.
“The plain language of Proposition 64 is clear,” a panel of three justices said, referring to the 2016 initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use. They concluded that “possession of less than one ounce of cannabis in prison or a similar penal institution is not a felony.”
In response to the ruling, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation emphasized that inmates are still banned from smoking or ingesting marijuana in its prisons.
“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 CDCR Press Secretary Vicky Waters. She added that the agency will “evaluate this decision with an eye towards maintaining health and security within our institutions.”
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Despite their conclusion that possessing cannabis does not constitute a felony, the court said prison authorities could still ban marijuana possession “to maintain order and safety in the prisons and other penal institutions.”
The mixed decision was met with confusion among both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, even as some acknowledged that it is a step toward adjusting criminal law to reflect recreational marijuana’s legal status in California.
“If you’re doing two years on a robbery, it does seem