ATLANTA — A Channel 2 Action News investigation revealed that across the state, African-Americans are arrested on marijuana possession charges significantly more often than whites.
"That is just a bad practice of applying the law unequally, that is, you are singling out a segment of the population," said state Sen. Ed Harbison. "That's just wrong. I don't care how you cover it up, how you try to color it."
Channel 2 looked at the total number of arrests for possession charges and compared the racial breakdowns to census data. For metro Atlanta agencies that made over 100 arrests, Channel 2 isolated nine agencies that had the highest discrepancies between the African-American population and the number of arrests they made.
The agency with the highest number was the Atlanta Police Department. Last year, 93 percent of all marijuana possession arrests in the city of Atlanta were African-Americans, and 7 percent were white. The city's population is 54 percent African-American and 38 percent white.
"This is a difficult issue that is far more complex than numbers can illustrate. I can assure you however, that the Atlanta Police Department is in no way, shape, form or fashion racially profiling," Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos told Channel 2.
Reverend C.L. White, president of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP, called it atrocious to have an arrest rate so high compared to the population.
"That is profiling at its worst. You don't have to have done anything, if they just suspect you might have done it as you look like someone who might do, than you are apt to be pulled over," said White.
Channel 2 spoke to a man who asked to be identified only as Greg, felt that was exactly what happened to him.
Greg told Channel 2 he felt he was racially profiled in Douglas County, where 66 percent of all those arrested for possession of marijuana are African-American.
"I really felt like he saw me and just felt like, 'Oh, here's a criminal. Let me go get him,'" said Greg.
Greg said he borrowed a friend's car to run an errand when Douglas County deputies pulled him over for a broken taillight when the officer asked to search his car.
"I got out of the car in order to let him search me to see if I had anything on me, which I didn't," said Greg.
The officer wouldn't let him go and called for a police dog. The dog indicated something was in the car and officers found what Greg's lawyer, Andy Cohen, described as a "speck of marijuana" and arrested him.
The charges against Greg were later dropped.
"It doesn't take many, 10 in 100 cops. If they're overzealous they can give the whole department a bad name," said White.
Channel 2 asked Atlanta Police Department why their numbers are so high.
"The public rightfully demands that we patrol high-crime neighborhoods. They also happen to be majority minority neighborhoods and that is where a lot of our encounters happen," said Campos.
"It seems like it's a crime to be poor and living in a high-crime district," said White.
The state of Georgia spends hundreds of millions of dollars enforcing marijuana laws. But with the state facing tight budgetary concerns, some critics argue that it is not worth the cost.
Georgia has some of the toughest marijuana laws in the country and a recent study conducted for the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation showed that the state spends $310 million to police, prosecute and jail marijuana offenders.
One metro lawyer is urging the state to decriminalize possession of marijuana to save the state some of that money.
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