(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Seattle police and pot citations: trending toward homelessness, race

SEATTLE — An analysis of the first six months of Seattle police enforcement under new marijuana laws finds homeless people and African-American males are more likely to be ticketed for public pot use than anyone else.

Officers issued 82 tickets for public possession and use between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to the report released Wednesday. Most of the citations were issued in public parks in the downtown core, where some homeless people hang out. One person was ticketed twice.

Almost all the people cited are men with an average age of 34. Although more than two-thirds of the people ticketed are younger than 40, people as old as 77 have been ticketed for marijuana infractions during the past six months.

About 36 percent of those ticketed were African-Americans, who are 8 percent of Seattle’s population according to the 2010 census. About 46 percent of those ticketed told police they lived in a homeless shelter, transitional housing or had addresses associated with homeless services.

The researchers caution that the numbers and time span of their study make their conclusions preliminary.

The police department plans to release reports on its marijuana research every six months to answer a new city law that requires monitoring of enforcement by age, race, sex and education.

Initiative 502, approved by state voters in 2012, included a civil fine for public consumption of marijuana.

Criminologist Loren T. Atherley of the Seattle Police Department, who was one of the marijuana report’s authors, notes that because marijuana stores opened in the state a few days after the research period ended, the situation in Seattle likely has already changed.

Homeless people are disproportionately represented among those ticketed for public marijuana use likely because they are the population most likely to be found breaking other laws in public places, Atherley said.

He compared the infraction to the open-container law for alcohol, although he has not done research on citations under that law so could not compare data between the two kinds of tickets.

The department hopes to get other researchers interested in the data and will continue to study it.

“We’re going to see how this unfolds,” Atherley said. He predicted the dataset would mature in another few years and researchers would be able to offer many more concrete conclusions.

“This is probably an issue that will be on the forefront of the public policy debate at least for 10 years to come,” he said.

In a statement from Seattle Councilman Nick Licata and City Attorney Pete Holmes, they suggested the data indicate trends for race and homelessness that the city should continue to monitor. They also said the data show a need for places where people can legally consume marijuana in Seattle.

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Criminologist Loren T. Atherley of the Seattle Police Department, who was one of the marijuana report’s authors, notes that because marijuana stores opened in the state a few days after the research period ended, the situation in Seattle likely has already changed.

Homeless people are disproportionately represented among those ticketed for public marijuana use likely because they are the population most likely to be found breaking other laws in public places, Atherley said.

He compared the infraction to the open-container law for alcohol, although he has not done research on arrests under that law so could not compare data between the two kinds of tickets.

The department hopes to get other researchers interested in the data and will continue to study it.

“We’re going to see how this unfolds,” Atherley said. He predicted the dataset would mature in another few years and researchers would be able to offer many more concrete conclusions.

“This is probably an issue that will be on the forefront of the public policy debate at least for 10 years to come,” he said.

In a statement from Seattle Councilman Nick Licata and City Attorney Pete Holmes, they suggested the data indicate trends for race and homelessness that the city should continue to monitor. They also said the data show a need for places where people can legally consume marijuana in Seattle.

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This story was first published on DenverPost.com