The most recent data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system shows that arrests in SC for marijuana possession are have steadily increased since 2010, with SC having the second-highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in 2018, the latest year for which data is available.
Even worse, Horry and other SC counties arrest black citizens for marijuana possession at a rate that is even higher than the national average. While black people nationwide are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, black citizens in Horry County, SC, are 6.8 times more likely to be arrested.
As many states are legalizing marijuana use and possession and some countries have even declared that the ability to grow and harvest the plant is a human right, why is SC jailing more and more of its citizens for simple possession?
SC Has the Nation’s Second-Highest Arrest Rate for Marijuana Possession
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system, SC has the nation’s second-highest arrest rate for marijuana possession:
A new report shows South Carolina has the nation’s second-highest arrest rate for marijuana possession as well as a growing racial disparity in these arrests…
“South Carolina’s marijuana laws needlessly ensnare thousands of people into the criminal justice system,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “This doesn’t make people safe.”
We not only have the second-highest arrest rate for marijuana possession as of 2018, but SC’s arrest rate has been growing steadily each year as the rest of the country moves in the opposite direction by legalizing or decriminalizing the possession and use of marijuana:
Across the state, marijuana possession arrests grew by 52.8 percent from 2010 to 2018, the latest year for which FBI data is available, the report said.
Despite the high numbers of marijuana arrests statewide, Charleston’s Chief of Police says that his officers have been issuing citations instead of arresting and booking weed smokers:
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said his focus, and that of his department, is on lowering violent crime.
“I could make 100 arrests for kids hanging out on the corner for simple possession and it’ll have minimal impact. Or I could arrest someone who’s shooting our communities and it’s going to have a huge positive impact,” Reynolds said. “We have to be strategic and we have to be in the areas where we have problems.”
The chief said officers have been issuing citations for simple possession rather than arresting those individuals when appropriate.
The Chief also articulated why, even in a state where marijuana is still illegal, it doesn’t make sense to arrest people for simple possession – when there are murders, armed robberies, home invasions, rapes, and other violent crimes every day, why should law enforcement be spending their time and resources locking up non-violent pot smokers?
“It’s a difficult, challenging conversation,” Reynolds said. “We should be in those communities where there’s drug dealing associated with violent crime. But who should we be arresting?”
The chief said he has directed his officers to not arrest people for simple possession, even during drug sweeps like one that occurred in Charleston’s East Side neighborhood earlier this year. The priority in such narcotics operations is to arrest dealers and people engaging in violence, not low-level offenders.
“We intentionally don’t go sweep up (everyone),” Reynolds said. “The whole idea is to build trust. If we go and arrest everybody, we’ve destroyed trust. You’re going to have underreporting of crime and the police cannot make a community safe.”
Possession of marijuana should not be a crime. It never should have been criminalized, and it is only a matter of time before the rest of the country follows suit and either legalizes or decriminalizes the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana.
Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrest Rate in Horry County, SC
Who are police arresting for marijuana possession in SC? As it turns out, mostly black people…
Nationwide, a black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person:
“This report finds that stark racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests have remained unchanged nationwide,” the ACLU concluded. “On average, a black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though black and white people use marijuana at similar rates.”
Although other SC counties have even higher racial disparities in marijuana arrests, a black person in Horry County is 6.8 times more likely to be arrested for weed than a white person – nearly double the national disparity:
In Pickens County, black residents were 8.4 times more likely than white residents to be arrested on the charge, according to the report. Nearby Oconee County had a disparity rate blacks being arrested 8.3 times more than whites.
In Lexington County, that rate was 5.8 times, and in Horry County is was 6.8 times.
How did the study determine that black people in Horry County are 6.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession?
Approximately 2931 black people are arrested per 100,000 black people in Horry County, while approximately 431 white people are arrested per 100,000 white people in Horry County. For example:
Horry County Police Department:
- In 2018, there were a total of 295 marijuana arrests made by the Horry County Police Department;
- Of those 295 arrests, 178 were white and 115 were black.
- There are approximately 290,000 white people and 44,000 black people living in Horry County.
Myrtle Beach Police Department:
- In 2018, 1198 marijuana arrests were made in the City of Myrtle Beach;
- 680 of the arrests were black and 518 were white.
- There are approximately 29,200 white city residents and 4800 black residents.
Why is there such a racial disparity in marijuana arrests in Horry County, SC?
Mickey James, head of the Myrtle Beach branch of the NAACP, wasn’t shocked by the findings.
“I don’t think it’s really surprising,” he said.
Mickey said the biggest issue is profiling by police. It is something he said he’s experienced while living in a lower-income area of Myrtle Beach. James said he has been stopped and questioned by officers but has not been arrested.
“That has got to stop,” James said.
While racial profiling is an issue that affects every stage of the criminal justice process, the bottom line is marijuana possession should not be illegal. No one should go to jail in SC for possession of small amounts of a plant that most of the country has decided to either embrace or tolerate…
If you have been charged with possession, distribution, or trafficking of marijuana, schedule a free consultation with a SC marijuana defense lawyer on the Axelrod team. If you have been charged with simple possession of marijuana, we understand that SC’s marijuana laws are backwards and unfair, and we will do everything legally and ethically possible to keep the conviction off your record.