After Gigi Hadid and a friend were arrested on suspicion of trying to bring marijuana into the Cayman Islands, they celebrated their release by posting thirst traps from a hotel pool and beach.
The fashion model and TV personality shared photos and video from her Caribbean vacation on Instagram, showing herself posing with swimsuit-clad friends at a beachside resort to the accompaniment of oysters and some seriously tasty-looking margarita pizza. “All’s well that ends well,” Hadid captioned the post without directly addressing her arrest.
Hadid, who was briefly jailed, fared better than she might have. The supermodel, whose real name is Jelena Noura Hadid, and her friend, Leah Nicole McCarthy, admitted in court to illegally importing marijuana and the instruments to smoke it with. But, after paying a $1,200 fine, they walked away. The same charge can carry a three-year prison sentence with hard labor and, for some, seven years and a $20,000 fine, according to Cayman Islands law. And for the typical Caymanian, having such a drug charge on your record can make education, employment and travel difficult.
Hadid, a self-declared “nepo baby,” and McCarthy, flew on July 10 from the United States into the Cayman Islands on a private jet, according to the islands’ Customs & Border Control, which confirmed the arrest Tuesday afternoon. After searching the pair’s luggage, authorities found a small amount of marijuana and a “drug utensil,” and arrested them.
Authorities charged the 28-year-old model and McCarthy with the importation of marijuana and importation of utensils used for the consumption of marijuana. After a short stay in jail, they posted bail and were released. They appeared in court two days later, where Hadid and McCarthy pleaded guilty to the charges. After paying their fines, they were freed with a clean record, the customs department said.
A representative for Hadid told E! News that the model had bought the marijuana legally in New York City with a medical license. Though the drug is legal for medicinal use in the Cayman Islands, transporting the drug into the islands is against the law.
The Cayman Islands, often known as a tax haven for U.S. companies and the ultra rich, has been attempting to decriminalize marijuana in recent years.
In 2021, a group of Caymanians started collecting signatures for a voter-led referendum to decriminalize the drug. Among their aims was to allow people convicted of crimes related to using or possessing small amounts of marijuana to have their convictions expunged. The islands’ Parliament also voted in 2022 to hold a referendum that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
Orrie Merren IV, a civil attorney who drafted the voter-led referendum, said a major motivation behind his initiative was to relieve the disproportionate impact such a law has on the islands’ young adults, many of whom live in its lower-income communities.
“I think it’s quite an onerous burden for them to get a criminal charge that then disallows them to obtain employment in the future, or in certain cases could hurt their ability to travel for the purpose of school, university, trade qualifications,” Merren said, referring to young Caymanians. He said he knew at least one person who couldn’t travel to the U.S. because of a marijuana possession charge.
Though marijuana and other drugs are used in both lower- and higher-income communities, arrests for low-income residents are more common, he said.
“You’re less likely to have police patrols going through a gated community than, say, if you’re looking at lower-income places,” which tend to have higher crime rates and greater police surveillance, Merren said.
In 2022, 154 people were arrested for drug-related crimes in the Caribbean nation of about 80,000 residents, according to statistics from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. Among marijuana arrests, the majority were for possession. Only three people were arrested on suspicion of importing weed, the charge Hadid and her friend faced.
Hadid isn’t the only celebrity to face more stringent marijuana laws while traveling internationally in recent years. WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested in February 2022 at a Moscow airport after a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges. Griner, a queer Black woman, received harsh treatment at the hands of Russian authorities. She was convicted of drug possession and sentenced to nine years in prison. She remained incarcerated for 10 months in a Russian prison known for its tough living conditions before her release late last year after a prisoner swap.