Some are asking whether a new tactic used by Denver police to arrest illegal marijuana dealers and growers amounts to entrapment.
Out of Denver, Colorado today, CBS4 has learned Denver police are posing as cannabis cultivators on Facebook.
Posing as the potential pot purveyors, the officers are conducting sting operations. So far, they have netted at least one lump of grass that amounts to tens of thousands of dollars.
Recognizing that social media networks have fast-become a high-tech marketplace for dealing and buying drugs, Denver police had the bright idea of pretending to be in on the game.
One of the unit’s Instagram posts reads, for example, “Place your order today, gets shipped out before 8 a.m.”
One Denver man, 26-year-old Sean Edelson, took the bait. He responded to a picture posted on Facebook of a marijuana grow with the caption, “Getting close to peak!! Taking orders now!!”
According to police, the response from Edelson was, ‘I’m the type of person that will take everything, every time.”
According toCBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger, a meeting was then arranged at a Denver restaurant. Court documents allege $64,000 in cash was shown by Edelson to an officer as payment for 36 pounds of pot. Edelson was promptly arrested.
Investigator Sallinger approached Edelson in a courthouse hallway.
“We’re doing a story on marijuana dealing on Facebook,” Sallinger asked.
“Sorry,” Edelson replied, and then covered the camera lens with a sheet of paper.
He now faces charges in a case which highlights how law enforcement is using social media to crack down on e-commerce in drugs.
Gordon Coombes is a former Larimer County Sheriff’s Office drug investigator who would go undercover on the Internet to bust drug dealers.
Denver police are even taking to Craigslist, where there are plenty of ads for illicit, black market marijuana sales. Now, police hope, people responding to the ads now don’t know if they have been placed by cops.
Investigators, however, are raising concerns about the cops’ methods; do they constitute entrapment?
Denver Police Department policy documents on reverse drug sting operations caution investigators they must have sufficient evidence that will demonstrate the predisposition of the suspects to possess or deal illegal drugs.
But former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser says it is difficult for the defendant to prove they have been entrapped.
“Would they be likely to commit this offense even if a police officer didn’t pose as an undercover person selling,” she said.