Pubdate: Sun, 09 Jul 2000
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 2000 Associated Press
Author: Joel Stashenko, Associated Press Writer


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - 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, one roughly 
nine times lower than New York City's.

The second-lowest county marijuana arrest rate was in Westchester, which 
borders New York City to the north.

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, windshield washers 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, Det. 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).

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.

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.
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