Cannon says racial-profiling charges part of agenda to legalize marijuana

Sheriff Al Cannon speaks Tuesday outside his office about racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession.

Wade Spees

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.

“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 called for changes.

Cannon said he felt obligated to counter the accusations 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, said 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 to see the statistics that back up claims 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 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.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or

NOTE: An earlier version of this story had the wrong date for the June 27 town-hall meeting.