Marijuana (Photo: Katheirne Hitt/Flickr)
Marijuana (Photo: Katheirne Hitt/Flickr)

An island town has the highest arrest rate for marijuana-related offenses in New Jersey, a recent report said, however the local police chief explained to Shorebeat that seasonal population changes skewed the statistics.

According to a report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union last month, Seaside Park has a marijuana arrest ratio of 5,028 per 100,000, more than 29 percent higher than the numbers two town – Chester, in Morris County – and significantly higher than any other Shore community. Ship Bottom, on Long Beach Island, was third on the list, at 2,804 arrests per 100,000 residents.

“We’re not doing anything in particular to target this,” said Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin, who went on the say that the borough’s tendency to balloon in population during the summer months heightens the ratio.

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“We have significant increase in population during a portion of the year,” he said.

Seaside Park had 1,579 full-time residents as of 2014, but the 0.6 square acre borough’s population swells to between 30,000 and 40,000 people during the peak points of summer. 

The ACLU study largely focused its study on the racial makeup of the average suspect arrested for marijuana possession in the state, though that data was not filtered down to the municipal level. The report took into account only those towns with at least 30 arrests in 2013, the year from which the data was derived.

The ACLU partnered with New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, a group that lobbies for the legalization and taxation of the substance, to form the report.

Most island towns were, indeed, higher than the average arrest rate county-wide. In Ocean County as a whole, the ratio of arrests was 218 per 100,000 residents. Statistics for Brick and Toms River were not broken down reflect island versus mainland totals.

  • Seaside Park: 5,028 per 100,000.
  • Point Pleasant Beach: 1,261 per 100,000.
  • Seaside Heights: 1,188 per 100,000.
  • Brick: 202 per 100,000.
  • Toms River: 112 per 100,000.
  • Lavallette: Not enough data.
  • Mantoloking: Not enough data.
  • Bay Head: Not enough data.

As Larkin explained, other towns with high seasonal population shifts also ranked high in the report’s ratio list. After Ship Bottom,  Beach Haven (also on Long Beach Island) and Wildwood, another tourism-centric community, also made the top five.

In Ocean County, the report said, blacks were arrested at a rate 5.53 times higher than whites for marijuana possession, making it the county with the highest racial arrest disparity in New Jersey.

The report found that New Jersey law enforcement made 24,067 marijuana possession arrests in 2013, 26 percent more than in 2000, when police made 19,607 arrests. Between 2000 and 2013, there were nearly 280,000 total marijuana possession arrests.

In May, a bill was introduced in the state Senate to legalize and tax the substance, which remains illegal on the federal level. Gov. Chris Christie has consistently spoken out against legalization, while Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee to succeed Christie, has come out in favor of it. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican nominee, has said marijuana should be “decriminalized” but stopped short of supporting outright legalization.