A new report shows nationwide racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, with blacks in South Carolina arrested for pot possession at nearly three times the rate of whites in 2010, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

In South Carolina, the counties with the largest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests were Spartanburg, Anderson, Oconee, Newberry and Richland, according to the ACLU. Racial disparities were also prominent in Charleston and Horry counties, the organization said.

The ACLU said the report, “Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests,” makes a strong case for legalizing marijuana, or at least decriminalizing pot possession.

Others questioned the report’s findings and said there is likely more to the story than meets the eye.

“This is biased research,” Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said. “This is a case of someone starting off with a theory and then interpreting the facts to support that theory.”

Statewide, the report found, marijuana possession rates accounted for 53.6 percent of all drug arrests in 2010. In the past 10 years, marijuana possession arrest rates have risen 29 percent and the racial disparities among such arrests have increased 57.4 percent, the ACLU stated.

“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost.”

Cannon has doubts about the methodology behind the report and its claims that the state spent $49 million on marijuana enforcement in 2010.

Cannon said it’s hard to make judgments about the numbers without knowing the stories behind the arrests. “If you look at the folks in the jail who are charged with marijuana possession, it’s almost never the sole charge,” he said. “It’s usually marijuana found incidentally to an arrest on a number of other charges.”

Most law enforcement efforts are concentrated on taking out hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, Cannon said. Though investigators do go after people with large quantities of marijuana, folks found with small amounts of pot are more likely to get a ticket than go to jail, he said.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556.