Pubdate: Mon, 10 Jul 2000
Source: Times Union (NY)
Copyright: 2000, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Contact:  Box 15000, Albany, NY 12212
Fax: (518) 454-5628
Author: Joel Stashenko, Associated Press


Wide Disparities Between Counties Lead To Charge That Some Law
Enforcement Agencies Too Aggressive

ALBANY -- 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

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.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens