Pubdate: Tue, 18 Jun 2013
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2013 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Dave Munday


Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon says accusations that his
deputies are arresting too many blacks on pot charges are part of the
American Civil Liberty Union's agenda to get marijuana legalized in
South Carolina.

What's next?

NAACP leaders are holding a town-hall meeting to talk about racial
disparities in marijuana arrests at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Morris Brown
AME Church, 13 Morris St. in downtown Charleston.

"I think they make it pretty clear that South Carolina ought to
decriminalize marijuana," Cannon said at a press conference outside
his office Tuesday. "This is their method of promoting that agenda."

The ACLU issued a report this month pointing out that blacks are
nearly three times more likely than whites to get busted for pot in
this state, despite comparable usage rates. Local NAACP leaders called
the report an indication of racial profiling and urged local
law-enforcement agencies to look for ways to change.

Cannon is the only local law-enforcement leader who responded to media
requests to speak to the accusations. He said he felt obligated to
speak out as an elected official.

Cannon said most people who are charged with marijuana possession are
found to have pot after they have been arrested for a more serious
crime. He said more blacks than whites are arrested in Charleston
County because that's simply the demographics of the high-crime areas
his deputies are asked to clean up.

Cannon is missing the root problem, according to Dot Scott, president
of the Charleston chapter of the NAACP. More blacks get busted for pot
because deputies tend to pull over blacks more often than whites "for
bogus reasons," she said.

"There's a profiling issue when people are stopped," she said. "I
think that's the root of the problem."

She said she has been asking Cannon to show her the statistics that
back up his claim that pot charges are mainly the result of being
arrested for more serious crimes. She also said the local NAACP has no
interest in legalizing pot.

Cannon also disputed the report's claim that agencies are spending a
large amount of money targeting pot users.

"I think that is inaccurate," he said. "I feel this is a selective
interpretation of numbers by the ACLU. Through that report they are
attempting to have marijuana decriminalized, and I think that would be
a serious mistake."

The ACLU is not trying to get pot legalized in South Carolina but is
concerned about the number of black youth being sent to jail for
possession, S.C. ACLU Director Victoria Middleton said.

In the report, the ACLU urges states to legalize marijuana. Where that
is not feasible, the ACLU wants all criminal and civil penalties for
possession by adults removed.

Where that is not feasible, the ACLU wants law-enforcement officers
and prosecutors to make marijuana arrests and prosecution a low priority.
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