Instagrammers Beware: Your Pot Photo May Land You In Jail
The US drug war initiated during the Nixon administration has been responsible for skyrocketing incarceration rates, the destruction of the black family, and increase in racial disparities in criminal justice. Now, it’s also responsible for a new wave of fear revolving marijuana users’ Instagram accounts.
According to a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent, posting images of recreational use of marijuana on social media may result in a fine up to $150,000. The individual at fault could also spend 18 months in jail.
“Even though 23 states have legalized medical marijuana and four states have legalized recreational marijuana,” former DEA agent Patricia D’Orsa-Dijamco said, “marijuana remains illegal federally.”
In an interview for Fox News, the former DEA agent said that nobody should “be posting pictures of themselves smoking pot and using pot-themed hashtags to attract fans and ‘likes’ in any state. People who post pictures of themselves could potentially face criminal charges.”
According to Instagram’s own list of restrictions, users are not allowed to upload “unlawful” content to its site. Images of marijuana use fall under this category.
Despite the potential risks, there has been a rise in images of individuals making use of recreational marijuana on social media. But Instagram users will continue to be targeted by law enforcement if they do not slow down—unless the law changes.
Popular Instagram users like Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and Wiz Khalifa haven’t suffered any restrictions after posting photos of recreational marijuana use to Instagram. But New Jersey 20-year-old marijuana user Connor Kennedy has.
In July of 2015, Kennedy was arrested by the Winslow Township Police Department after posting photos online of his marijuana use. He was allegedly growing seven marijuana plants in an abandoned backyard down the street from his house at the time.
“Concerned citizens” contacted the police about Kennedy’s behavior, which prompted the police to catch the young man tending to the plants with a hidden camera. After this incident, investigators looked him up online. That’s when they found his incriminating photos.
He’s not the only one to have been arrested after posting photos of marijuana on Instagram.
Toward the end of 2015, there was a wave of hope among anti-drug war advocates when reports claiming that Congress had lifted the ban on medical marijuana hit the news. Unfortunately, they were not accurate.
In December of 2014, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that included a provision keeping the Justice Department from using funds appropriated by that particular bill to fight against states pushing their own marijuana laws. That means that agencies like the DEA would not be able to use the omnibus bill’s funds to prevent states from passing their own marijuana legislation. This same provision was part of the 2015 omnibus bill.
Despite the bill’s wording, the Justice Department has largely ignored the law by prosecuting and seizing the property of countless medical marijuana suppliers. Officials often argue that these actions don’t “prevent” states from passing their own drug laws.
If the Justice Department is given a free pass and officials continue to ignore the laws written by Congress, it’s not hard to see how Americans’ freedom of speech will continue to suffer.
Until Congress tackles the issue directly by putting an end to the drug war and reforming the criminal justice system, Instagram users and marijuana suppliers will remain vulnerable.