Ashley Ward-Willis: Marijuana Possession Still Prohibited in California Prisons Despite State Legalization


(People v. Raybon, 36 Cal.App.5th 111, 248 Cal. Rptr. 3d 611 (Cal. Ct. App. 2019)



Issue & Ruling



Although California citizens recently voted to approve the legalization of cannabis and, consequently, adult possession, California’s Supreme Court recently held that this privilege does not extend to prisoners within the state.






In People v. Goldy Raybon the California Supreme Court evaluated whether the voter measure, Proposition 64, invalidated convictions for the possession of cannabis in a state correctional facility.



Proposition 64, recently approved by California voters, effectively legalized the possession of cannabis for persons aged 21 years and older up to 28.5 grams, albeit subject to certain exceptions. One such exception provides that Prop. 64 does not amend or effect “laws pertaining to smoking or ingesting cannabis or cannabis products on the grounds of, or within, any facility or institution under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”



Five state prison inmates, each convicted of possession of less than 28.5 grams of cannabis while in state prison, filed petitions with the Sacramento County Superior Court seeking to dismiss their sentences in light of Prop. 64.



They argued that their convictions were moot now that adult possession of less than an ounce of cannabis in prison no longer constituted a crime.



The State, on the other hand, argued that their convictions fell within the exception stating that Prop. 64 has no effect on laws “pertaining to smoking or ingesting cannabis or cannabis products” in state correctional facilities and were thus still valid. The State argued that that exception implicitly extended to possession as well, because the possession of cannabis is directly related to the smoking or ingesting of it. Further, the Attorney General asserted that the language “pertaining to” indicated a broader application of the provision than just smoking or ingestion.






Ultimately, the California Supreme Court agreed with the State’s analysis, holding that its interpretation of the law was “more compatible with common sense.” Justice Joshua Groban wrote that it was “doubtful that voters intended to legalize possession in prison but allow laws that criminalize its use there.” The Court also noted that if the California legislature disagreed and instead believed that possession in prisons should be lawful, it was “free to revisit” that issue itself. For now, however, the privilege of cannabis possession does not extend to prisoners.


Ashley Ward-Willis
Ashley Ward-Willis
New York Law School

Ashley Ward-Willis is a third-year law student interested in state regulatory and licensing schemes. Ashley is also interested in government and municipal law, particularly the intersection between municipal law and developing cannabis regulations.

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