Citywide no-drug zone gets support

Annapolis council member wants penalties doubled

January 24, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Stepping up efforts to curb drug activity throughout Annapolis, the city council is backing a House of Delegates bill that would allow the entire city to be designated as a drug-free zone with stiffer penalties for convicted dealers.

The council unanimously passed the resolution, which was sponsored by Alderwoman Julie Stankivic, the Ward 6 independent, on Monday night.

It expands on a council resolution last year that supported letting the city classify areas around school bus stops, Head Start facilities and public housing properties as drug-free zones. That bill passed the House of Delegates but was never voted on by the state Senate.

Stankivic said the broader designation would mean that certain communities are not unfairly targeted.

"In effect, all people in Annapolis who commit crimes related to drug activity are subject to this enhanced penalty," said Stankivic, who wants to allow judges to double penalties for drug dealing in the city. "It's not just one area or population."

Currently, the state designates areas around schools as drug-free zones and allows courts to double the sentence for people convicted of dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of school property.

A bill sponsored by newly elected state Del. Ron George, the Arnold Republican, will be considered by the county delegation at a Feb. 2 hearing.

George's measure would add areas around recreation and community centers to those that could be declared drug-free zones, and allow the city to determine the conditions for zones in Annapolis.

As for Stankivic's proposal for a citywide drug-free zone, George said that that is too expansive and that such a bill would be harder to pass.

George said that communities such as the Clay Street area, which has an open-air drug market, will benefit from the legislation.

"I don't see it targeting African-Americans, I see it helping their communities, which is a fair and just thing," he said. "These people, they need help, they don't need drug dealers in their community."

A March 2006 study commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance found that drug-free zone laws increase racial disparity in sentencing and incarceration and do not reduce the sale or use of drugs or protect schoolchildren.

The report was based on findings in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut, among other states.

Hal Dalton, an Annapolis police spokesman, said there is insufficient data to show that such drug-free zones decrease drug activity. But he said such laws keep drug dealers off the streets for longer periods of time.

He called the drug problem in Annapolis serious and widespread, with drug activity an apparent factor in most violent crimes. Drug arrests are on the rise in the city, he said.

"If we get any other tool to fight violent crime, then we'd appreciate that," Dalton said.

Tim Boston, the assistant program director for the after-school program at the Clay Street Computer Learning Center, said he frequently sees drug transactions near the center.

Stricter penalties would serve as a deterrent, he said, but the city should take a less blanket approach to the drug problem.

"This area is predominantly African-American, but if these people are doing wrong they need to be reprimanded, and in the long run if they see that there's a problem on Main Street, then they could designate that a drug-free area," he said. "To make the whole city a drug-free zone would be too broad. It should be about where the problem is."

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