How police are using social media to bust weed smokers

Photo by Colin Anderson/Getty Images

legalization | 12.18.2019

How police are using social media to bust weed smokers

That picture of you with a blunt might not be worth it.

If you’ve spent much time on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, especially in pro-cannabis circles, you’ve probably been approached by would-be online pot dealers. Sometimes the weed photos are pretty enough and the prices are reasonable enough to actually, for a brief moment, be tempting.

But what’s the story behind these social media weed slingers? Are they revolutionaries with stones of steel or just garden-variety scammers? All too often, the latter is true. And folks who are ripped off on online pot purchases have no real recourse. That’s why scammers love this particular racket.

The risks of buying weed online

Digital Trends uncharitably called social media drug dealers “The Stupidest People On The Internet.” As evidence for that claim, the site gives several examples of bone-headed moves by Facebook and Instagram-based weed dealers.

“The basic lack of understanding on display here about how the internet works either means a shocking amount of users don’t realize how easy they are to trace, or maybe more likely, that they don’t really care. Instagram nonchalance may be a private investigator’s new best friend,” the site said.

Some of the online dealers are exactly what they seem. They do sell weed locally by using social media for advertising and publicity purposes. And there are people—usually in legal states—willing to ship weed to places where it’s illegal (at a big, black-market profit, of course). A buyer can get in lots of trouble, though, if the cops figure out what’s going on and trace the package to the person’s house.

Being in a legal state doesn’t necessarily offer protection either. A report by CBS Denver showed that Denver police used social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to entrap and bust those who buy weed from anywhere other than the city’s licensed pot shops. The cops also set up pages to pose as buyers in order to catch dealers advertising on social media, reports The Free Thought Project.

Some of the fake social media pages created by police were complete with back stories and photos of grow operations they claimed to own, according to THCU Insider.

CopsSocialMedia3 How police are using social media to bust weed smokers
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Dealer Goes Live On Facebook, Gets Busted

Last October, a 40-minute Facebook Live video showed guns and weed on the streets of Milwaukee. The man who broadcast it is now charged with running a mobile drug house, reports WBAY.

It seems Jeff Kirk used his car as his office, and his cell phone to transmit his drug dealing to Facebook, according to the cops. Kirk broadcast a 40-minute feed as he drove around town selling cannabis, all while armed with a semi-automatic rifle and pistol.

Someone brought the video to the attention of Milwaukee police, who moved in. A neighbor told WBAY he was outside raking the yard when a heavily armed crew of ATF and FBI agents, along with Milwaukee police officers, shut down his street.

“When I saw these guys come out, I said, ‘Whoa, am I watching a TV program here or what? They were serious. They had serious firepower there. An M-16 will pulverize your flesh.”

Police arrested Kirk at his girlfriend’s place. They seized two guns, a bulletproof vest, marijuana, and $1,400 in cash. Kirk was thrown in the Milwaukee County Jail on eight felony charges.

This scenario plays out over and over and over, and there always seem to be other dealers willing to step up to take the place of those who get busted.

More than 80 percent of law enforcement officials responding to a survey said social media is a valuable tool for “crime-fighting” and that so-called catfishing, “creating personas or profiles on social media outlets for use in law enforcement activities is ethical,” reports Awareness Act.

But Dealers Aren’t the Only Ones Getting In Trouble

CopsSocialMedia2 How police are using social media to bust weed smokers
Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If dealers were the only ones getting busted for weed on social media, it would be one thing. But everyday smokers are also getting arrested—simply for showing off their buds online. Law enforcement agencies often monitor social media for words like “marijuana.”

Mikayla Rock, a 17-year-old girl in Louisiana, was allegedly “part of a group taking photographs of marijuana and posting them on the social media site Instagram.” St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office told WAFB that “a detective with the narcotics division saw a picture of people with marijuana on a social media site and began an investigation.” Detectives showed up at the terrified teen’s home and “found her to be in possession of an illegal drug.” While the story doesn’t share how cops figured out where Rock lived, it could be that she didn’t remove the geo-tagged locational metadata from her photo.

Police Are Creating Fake Accounts To Watch You

Police departments around the U.S. are taking predictive crime prevention to new levels by building fake user accounts on Facebook and other social media sites, reports Cop Block. Local undercover agents pose as members of the community, allowing them to gather personal information about suspects they consider at “high risk” for being involved in “future crime.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has actually published a social media guide for law enforcement officials. According to this document, officers create fraudulent profiles, even though that violates official Facebook policy.

Police departments are also using predictive analytical policing software.This allows them to select local neighborhoods to patrol, based on social networking posts. If people are emotionally upset, for instance, or advertising weed and posting it on social media, the software program labels the neighborhood “high risk,” telling cops to focus on the area.

One police officer said he “was looking for a suspect related to drug charges for over a month. When I looked him up on Facebook and requested him as a friend from a fictitious profile, he accepted” and “he kept ‘checkin in’ everywhere he went, so I was able to track him down very easily,” reports Business Insider.

“Social media is a valuable tool because you are able to see the activities of a target in his comfortable state,” wrote another officer. “Targets brag and post information in reference to travel, hobbies, places visited, appointments, circle of friends, family members, actions, etc.”

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