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The slippery slope of “medical marijuana” inches closer and closer to acceptance in many areas, including treatment of workers’ compensation claims. The 3rd District Court of Appeal helped to kick the door open when it ruled that California voters legalized recreational possession of less than an ounce of cannabis in 2016, with no exception even for those behind bars.

In the published case of People v Raybon, the court overturned the Sacramento County convictions of five inmates who had been found with marijuana in their prison cells. The court rejected multiple arguments presented by the California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, who vigorously argued in favor of the convictions. In so doing, the court claimed that the Attorney General “recycled” old arguments in prior cases that have previously ruled against his arguments.

“The question before us is not what the Legislature intended in 1949 or 1990, but whether the voters amended Penal Code section 4573.6 by passing Proposition 64 in 2016. The drafters and voters are entitled to opt for a different approach and, in this case, they did just that. They amended the statute to eliminate criminal sanctions for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and they retained criminal sanctions for possessing more than an ounce or for smoking or ingesting it.”

“The fact the Attorney General may not agree with the voters does not empower us to rewrite the initiative.”

According to the plain language of … Proposition 64, possession of less than an ounce of cannabis in prison is no longer a felony,” the court ruled Tuesday. “Smoking or ingesting cannabis in prison remains a felony.”

The three-judge panel also rejected the state’s argument that guards will lose control over prisons if inmates are free to possess small quantities of marijuana, noting that possession can still be punished as a rules violation with longer prison terms or a reduction in privileges.

While prison officials can still punish inmates for violating the rules, “this ruling 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,” said Assistant Public Defender David Lynch.

The judges scolded the attorney general’s office for a counter-argument it said “uses arcane rules” and “twists the meaning of the words of the statute.”

Becerra’s office argued that the court’s reading of the law was absurd because it in effect allows controlled substances into prisons. But the court noted that it previously ruled that it’s not illegal for inmates to have properly prescribed medications or medical marijuana behind bars – though it may be against the rules.

The Attorney General raises the same hackneyed and losing arguments in each case involving contraband in jails or prisons,” the judges wrote.

“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,” Sacramento County Assistant Public Defender Leonard Tauman said in an email. The appeals court “quite properly honored what the electorate passed.”

“We want to be clear that drug use and sales within state prisons remains prohibited,” said corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters. She said the department “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.”

Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said it is reviewing the ruling and did not say if he will appeal.