We already know that inordinate amounts of people are in jail for small-time marijuana possession across the country — even in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, but are behind the times when it comes to the expungement of past criminal records.
Compounding this issue is the prisoners who are caught with cannabis when they are already in jail, an offense that can end up adding years to their sentence and hence, costing taxpayers a whole lot of money to keep non-violent offenders locked up.
California recently took a step in the right direction when it comes to guaranteeing incarcerated people’s rights in the middle of the cannabis legalization movement. Though it remains illegal to consume marijuana in prisons, the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeals decided that less than an ounce of marijuana was OK for imprisoned people to have in their possession — the same amount that all Californians are authorized to carry by law by 2016’s Proposition 64.
The case was brought to court when marijuana was found in the cells of five Sacramento County inmates. The state of California argued that allowing incarcerated individuals to possess cannabis would cause issues in maintaining control in the prison facilities.
A three-judge panel ruled to override the state’s concerns. Assistant public defender David Lynch said, “this ruling will prevent inmates from having years added to their sentences for simple possession, reducing overcrowding and saving $50,000 to 75,000 a year in unnecessary costs.”
“The voters made quite clear their intention to avoid spending state and county funds prosecuting possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and quite clear that they did not want to see adults suffer criminal convictions for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana,” wrote Sacramento County assistant public defender Leonard Tauman in an email to a local ABC news affiliate.
However, prison authorities will still be able to penalize marijuana possession as a rules violation, and impose punishments of extra jail time or by taking away an incarcerated individuals’ privileges .
The role cannabis should play in prison is a global matter of interest. In March, a UK doctor spoke out about the importance of supplying cannabis to incarcerated individuals in the wake of a spate of deaths by ingestion of synthetic marijuana products like Spice. Synthetic marijuana is also an issue in United States jails. In Louisiana, a guard was discovered smuggling the stuff in sandwich and potato chip bags in the hope of distributing it to the incarcerated people of Richwood Correctional Center.
There has been ample debate over the issue of whether people in prison or jail should be able to consume marijuana, especially in cases of a medical need or religious conviction. On the front lines of this debate has been the Rastafarian community — last year, a South Carolina inmate sued the Department of Corrections over various violations of his Rasta faith, including the shaving off of his dreadlocks and the ban on smoking marijuana behind bars.