Hot Spots for Pot Arrests Generate Criticism

  Hot Spots for Pot Arrests Generate Criticism

Posted by FoM on July 10, 2000 at 10:26:55 PT
By Joel Stashenko, Associated Press  
Source: Times-Union 

Wide disparities between counties lead to charge that some law enforcement agencies too aggressive. Odds of getting arrested for marijuana use or possession are better in New York than in any other state except Alaska, according to a statistical analysis conducted for a marijuana-law reform group. 
The study, based on FBI crime data, also shows a wide disparity between the way police enforce marijuana laws from county to county in New York.The five boroughs of New York City, for instance, are all in the top 10 among counties of 250,000 people or larger in America for marijuana arrests per 100,000 residents. But Nassau County, which borders Queens and Brooklyn, has the lowest marijuana arrest rate in the state -- roughly one-ninth that of New York City's.The second-lowest county marijuana arrest rate was in Westchester, which borders New York City to the north.The highest arrest rate in the state was in Greene County, at 895.5 arrests per 100,000 residents.The rural county just south of Albany has long been favored territory for commercial marijuana growers, Sheriff Richard Hussey said. In addition, State Police patrol the state Thruway, which runs through Greene County, including the New Baltimore rest stop."There are places on the road where troopers can really eyeball the cars,'' Hussey said.The statistics were compiled and analyzed for the NORML Foundation, the research arm of the Washington, D.C.-based group the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. The foundation's executive director, Allen St. Pierre, said the study shows the arbitrary and excessive enforcement of marijuana laws."One can look and properly question why one jurisdiction has 350 arrests (per 100,000) a year and another nearby will have 100,'' St. Pierre said. "Why is there a disparity? It really can't be that there are three times more people using marijuana in the next county.''The state averaged 404.6 marijuana arrests per 100,000 residents in 1997, the last year analyzed in the study, second only to Alaska's rate of 417.7. The national average was 256 arrests per 100,000 residents.St. Pierre said the numbers contain no great mysteries. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's policy of ridding the streets of New York City of lawbreakers has been aimed squarely at the low-level "nuisance'' kind of offenders like aggressive panhandlers and marijuana smokers.But St. Pierre argued that activities by New York City police officers run counter to the intent of New York state's decriminalization of the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. New York City police officers are going too far by arresting people -- sometimes keeping them in jail overnight or over a weekend until they can be arraigned -- when they should be writing violators a ticket and letting them go on their way."All of this seems extraordinarily excessive when the Legislature intended for this to be treated like a speeding ticket,'' St. Pierre said.Norman Siegel, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the NORML-commissioned study suggests "serious and substantial civil liberties questions regarding the exceptionally high number of marijuana arrests in New York City.''"The figures are very troubling,'' Siegel said. "Should we be arresting people for possessing a joint of marijuana? It is reminiscent of the '20s when people were arrested for drinking a beer.''Siegel said the disparity between New York City's marijuana arrest numbers and those in nearby counties also raises doubts about the equal application of the law by authorities in the city.When asked to comment on the arrest statistics, Detective Walter Burnes of the New York Police Department responded, "Smoking marijuana is against the law and the New York City Police Department enforces the law.''The five boroughs of New York City had per-100,000 marijuana arrest rates of between 646.7 (Manhattan) and 632.4 (Brooklyn).St. Pierre said that in addition to counties along major roadways like the Thruway, resort areas where young people congregate also tend to have higher-than-average marijuana arrest rates. Albany, New YorkPublished: Monday, July 10, 2000  Copyright 2000, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y. Related Article & Web Site:NORML NY Pot Arrests Out of Line with Rest of US NORML Archives:

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