Opinion: Crack House Statute and Cooper Davis Act

Contributed by Olivia Konar, 2024

A woman owned a three story building. The first floor was a grocery store that she owned and operated with her son.  The second and third floors were apartments that her son and she lived in. Law enforcement authorities launched an investigation into a large-scale narcotics trafficking operation run by her son and his associates. After a fifteen-month long investigation her son was arrested, charged, and convicted on narcotics charges. The United States subsequently brought charges and a civil forfeiture action against her property under 21 US Code 856 commonly referred to as “the Crack House statute”.

 “The Crack House statute” makes it illegal to  “Knowingly open, lease, rent, use or maintain any place, whether permanently or temporarily, for manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance or  manage or control any place, whether permanently or temporarily, either as an owner lessee, agent, employee, occupant, or mortgagee, and knowingly and intentionally rent, lease, profit from, or make available for use, with or without compensation, the place to unlawfully manufacture, store, distributing, or using a controlled substance.”  

In other words, you can’t be a bystander to drug sales.

The US government concluded that the extent of the narcotics operation being run out of her grocery store was so prevalent that the women had either had to know about it or made herself willfully blind to crimes being committed by her son. She was found guilty of violating the Crack House statute, and her building was seized.

Let’s compare that situation to another.

A group of people run a place which has been referred to as an “open air drug market.” Millions of teenagers hang out at this place and sadly, this place is a popular location for teenagers to purchase drugs. This place has been linked to thousands of fentanyl poisonings. This place allows people to anonymously share menus that openly advertise drug sales and allows people to send these menus to unsuspecting customers who did not search out these illicit substances. This place destroyed all evidence of these crimes and has done little to nothing to stop the proliferation of drugs. 

Sounds like this place should be in trouble, right?

The name of this place is Snapchat. They are not in trouble.

Tweens and teens use Snapchat. 48% of Snap’s users are aged 15-25, and  in 2023 their revenue was 4.6 billion dollars, with 40% coming from users under the age of 18. 

A DEA study found that 36% of fentanyl overdoses in 2022 were linked to social media companies. From 2021 to 2022 drug overdoses for people ages 10-19 rose 182%. 

On March 10, 2022 my 17 year old sister died of fentanyl poisoning with drugs purchased from a dealer she found on social media. Her name was Coco. 

My sister’s story is just one of thousands. This country faces a drug crisis like one we have never seen before. Our youth are dying at unprecedented rates and we are doing nothing to protect them. 

Snapchat is involved in far more drug sales than the woman in the first story, and yet they face no consequences and claim to be shielded from any criminal or civil penalties by Section 230 of the Communications and Decency act. 

Section 230 basically states that online platforms should not be “treated as the publisher or speaker” of any content posted on their site, which shields them from prosecution for the content on their sites. In order to receive this protection, companies must take reasonable steps to delete or prevent access to this content. Section 230 is ancient and was written for an internet that is very different from the one that exists today. When the law passed in 1996, 20 million Americans used the internet, and the internet’s main functions were email and chat rooms. This is not today’s internet.

SEC 230 was written to protect and bolster a new small industry, not large social media companies with billions of users. It no longer makes sense to give protections to Snapchat as they allow drug sales, knowing they won’t be held liable. No other industry in the United States receives this type of immunity, and no other industry fails to uphold its duty of care in the same way social media companies do. 

Snapchat does not effectively police its platform to an extent which prevents users from gaining access to illicit content, because it is not incentivized to do so. There’s no profit in policing users.  Why do they still get the privilege of Sec 230 immunity when they are obviously failing to take the “reasonable steps” that are written into the very law they benefit from  so much.

Snapchat knows that this is happening on their platform, our government knows that this is happening, and yet they both sit idly as children die and drug dealers run rampant with access to millions of customers through the touch of a button.

Our Congress must do something to protect young people, which is why I am calling for the passage of the Cooper Davis act. The Cooper Davis Act, introduced by Senator Robert Marshall, would force online platforms like Snapchat  to report drug related content to the Drug Enforcement Agency in certain circumstances. It specifically targets the proliferation of fentanyl and counterfeit prescription drugs ( content which relates to cannabis is exempt). 

When reported, the DEA would then conduct an investigation and determine whether or not a wider investigation and referral to other law enforcement agencies is needed. This bill does not make social media companies criminally liable for what happens on their platform; it only forces them to report illicit content when they see it. Their liability would end once they sent the content to the DEA. The Cooper Davis Act allows companies to address and report the problem of drug sales on their platforms, without having to fix it. It is a compromise, and a compromise that could save thousands of lives. 

If there’s a chance that their information will be sent to the DEA, I predict that drug dealers will flee these platforms. While they may find other locations, this law would still vastly decrease the accessibility of drugs on social media. Dealers could no longer openly advertise drug products or reach as wide an audience. 

Some people like to talk about our First Amendment rights, as if having the freedom of speech is more important than saving kids’ lives. The First Amendment does not give us the right to sell drugs, or turn a blind eye to people selling drugs. 

If Snapchat was a physical location, its owners would have already been convicted under “the Crack House Act”, and it would already be shut down. The Cooper Davis Act is common sense legislation and passing it is necessary to save our lives.

In the Big Tech hearings, Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel called for the passage of the Cooper Davis Act. To him I say, nothing is stopping you from implementing the measures the Cooper Davis Act calls for right now without it being passed. Snapchat could become a leader in the industry, and stand up for what is right. 

But they won’t. 

History has taught us that companies will always put profit over people, and the only way to fix problems is for the government to do the right thing and pass safeguards to protect children and teens online like the Cooper Davis Act.

Please reach out to your representative to sponsor the Cooper Davis Act.