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Think Before You Post: We Asked A Lawyer About The Perils Of Cannabis And Social Media

Cannabis and social media are certainly both hot trends in 2016. However, these two noble pursuits, so awesome in isolation, can be disastrous when combined: just ask Tyga or this Florida woman who was arrested for posting pictures of her plants on Instagram. If you're a) not ready to broadcast your habits to everyone you know, or b) loath to attract undue heat, you're going to have to exercise serious caution.

But for those bent on pulling a Miley Cyrus, here are some of the do's and don'ts, as outlined by attorney Tiffany Wu of Harris Moure's Canna Law Group.

1) Don't post it to Instagram

Instagram guidelines prohibit posting "unlawful" content. This is a distinction that leaves a lot of room for interpretation: hence, the photo-sharing app is "notorious," says Wu, for blocking users who post cannabis-related material, and also for maintaining a list of banned hashtags that includes "marijuana" and "weed" (All that "ban" means in practice, FYI, is that the hashtags aren't searchable). If you're found in violation of the rules, you'll get blocked, and lose all your content. At best, this is a hassle, but if you're, say, a cannabis entrepreneur who's worked hard to develop your brand, it can be a disaster. If you're really into taking pics of smoking and cannabis-related stuff, get on MassRoots.

2) Do have a basic grasp of Geotagging

Every time you take a photo, your phone logs a ton of metadata about it - when you look it, what kind of camera you're using, and, most relevant to our purpose, where you are. All of this is very easy to uncover - a cause for concern, if you're sharing those photos on public social networks. "There have been cases," Wu tells Civilized, "where local police have supposedly used social media posts to arrest users on possession or related charges. There's no law against taking a pic of you smoking and putting it online, but it can tip off law enforcement. Metadata is something to be concerned about if you're in an illegal state."

3) Don't draw attention to yourself

If you have a large number of followers, are a grey-market dispensary advertising that you're selling marijuana, or endorse other straight-up-illegal activities, your account is more likely to get flagged and shut down than if you have a relatively small following and post milder, pro-cannabis political content. While Wu "hasn't heard of any cases where a social media post has been proved to be probable cause for a search," it's still not smart to make inflammatory statements about police or otherwise push your luck if you're already posting anything dicey.

4) Do limit yourself to political speech

"There are two types of speech," Wu tells Civilized. "The first is political speech, which companies should not be able to restrict. To minimize the chances of your account being shut down for cannabis-related posts, don't do any commercial advertising: that's not protected under the First Amendment right. The second type of speech is advertising: for example, dispensaries that post pricing, coupons, that kind of thing. All of that will fall under the federal jurisdiction, and that is something sites can block."

But don't think you're in the clear just because you're not selling anything. "If you stick to political speech, you will be within the law, but that doesn't mean they won't still shut down your account. The companies have control," says Wu.

5) Don't (just) blame the site admins

According to Wu, one of the most common ways that people get in trouble "is when an anti-legalization group starts going though pro-cannabis accounts and reporting them all. We actually don't know how much monitoring sites do on their own - they don't share that data publicly." In some cases, she says, sites like Instagram or Facebook will block your account after they've received a complaint, then re-instate it after a review. But it's clear, says Wu, that "the reports [by users] are taken pretty seriously." So maybe try to avoid making online enemies.

6) Do know it can, and will, be used against you

If you're already having legal issues of any kind, forget about posting that macro photo of the buds you just took home. "Let's say you were arrested and charged on something totally separate from social media," says Wu. "That could still be used against you in court. If you're being charged with illegal distribution, and you've posted on social media with something it looks like you're going to sell, then that could be used against you." So if you're involved in any kind of legal proceedings, including custody cases, err on the side of caution.

7) Don't post

Sorry: even if you're in a legal state, the best way to keep your account from getting deleted and/or prompting an unannounced visit from the cops is to scrub your online presence of drug-related content. On the subject of blocking, as Wu puts it, "social media companies are still going to shut down accounts: there's not much you can do to protect yourself, because the line is so blurred as to what is legal and what is not. Once it's out there, it's hard to take it down. just think about it. Consider it all."


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