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California Supreme Court: Legalized marijuana doesn't apply to prisoners

By Zarrin Ahmed
California Supreme Court: Legalized marijuana doesn't apply to prisoners
San Quentin State Prison is seen in Marin County, Calif. The main thrust of the high court's decision was that it's unlikely that voters who favored Proposition 64 five years ago, which decriminalized possessing up to an ounce of marijuana, also intended that it apply to prison inmates. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The California Supreme Court has determined that inmates in state prisons cannot possess any amount of marijuana, even though it's no longer criminal for Californians to have small amounts of the substance in their possession.

The high court issued the decision on Thursday, which overturned a ruling by California's 3rd District Court of Appeal that said the 2016 law also decriminalized possession for those in prison.

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The Supreme Court's 5-2 decision stemmed from a complaint by former inmate Nisaiah Perry, who was sentenced to serve two extra years for possessing 14 grams of marijuana while incarcerated in 2010.

The main thrust of the high court's decision was that it's unlikely that voters who favored Proposition 64 five years ago, which decriminalized possessing up to an ounce of marijuana, also intended that it apply to prison inmates.

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"There is nothing in the ballot materials for Proposition 64 to suggest the voters were alerted to or aware of any potential impact of the measure on cannabis in correctional institutions, much less that the voters intended to alter existing proscriptions against the possession or use of cannabis in those institutions," Associate Justice Joshua Groban wrote for the majority.

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"The only mention of the subject is in the text of the measure itself and ... states the opposite intent in the strongest of terms."

Perry in his appeal had cited text in the law that says a person who would have been guilty of a lesser offense may petition for a recall or dismissal of the sentence.

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The trial court ruled in 2017 that Perry failed to state a basis for his appeal. He filed another petition in 2018 and was denied. He argued that he wouldn't have been guilty of possession if Proposition 64 had been in effect at the time.

"We disagree," the high court noted.

Two justices, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Leondra Kruger, partly dissented with the majority opinion and argued that the 2016 law presents a legal dilemma for prosecutors because it creates dueling statutes with different penalties.

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California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, which also is unlawful to possess by inmates.

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