ACLU report: Blacks in South Carolina arrested at nearly three times rate of whites for marijuana possession in 2010

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Blacks in South Carolina were arrested for marijuana possession at 2.8 times the rate of whites in 2010, despite comparable marijuana usage rates, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report, “Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests,” released today, is the first to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race, the ACLU said.

In South Carolina, the counties with the largest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests were Spartanburg, Anderson, Oconee, Newberry and Richland, according to the report. Racial disparities were also prominent in Charleston and Horry counties. Statewide, 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 organization said the findings show that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, they have grown significantly worse.

“The War on Marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” says 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.”

South Carolina spent $49,540,640 enforcing marijuana laws in 2010 the study found. Nationally, states spent an estimated $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010. New York and California combined spent over $1 billion, the report stated.

The ACLU calls for states to legalize marijuana by licensing and regulating marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons 21 or older, taxing marijuana sales, and removing state law criminal and civil penalties for such activities, which it says would eliminate the unfair racially- and community-targeted enforcement of marijuana laws.

If legalization is not feasible, the ACLU recommends de-penalizing marijuana possession by removing all civil and criminal penalties for use and possession for persons 21 or older; or, if de-penalization is not possible, decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession by replacing all criminal penalties for use and possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults and youth with a civil penalty of a small fine. Finally, if decriminalization is not attainable, the ACLU suggests police and prosecutors make enforcement of marijuana possession laws a low priority.