Annual Conference

Summer Form 2016: S2 James Martin – Online drug marketplaces: Trends from the dark web

By February 18, 2016 No Comments

Dr James Martin presented to TheMHS Summer Forum about the nature of drug dealing and drug trends in cryptomarkets. Cryptomarkets allow users to navigate the “dark web” anonymously through the use of software that encrypt the identity and location of the user. Dr Martin explains the existence of online drug markets gained considerable notoriety through the resilience of online illicit marketplaces (such as the infamous Silk Road) to law enforcement efforts. The eventual disruption of the Silk Road spawned the birth of Silk Road 2.0 and multiple other replica markets to meet demand. Loosely likened to legitimate online marketplaces such as E-bay, cryptomarkets like the Silk Road are conceptually capitalist where competition drives price down and quality up.

The online drug marketplace appears to represent a countermovement reacting to authoritarian control of drug use. Dr Martins outlined that the increased range of substances available through drug cryptomarkets allows consumers access to virtually any drug they want. Further, cryptomarkets arguably provide access to higher quality product with fewer adulterants via a process of cutting out the middlemen brokers and providing access to buyer feedback and vendor rating systems. Consumers can also engage in discussion forums about harm minimisation practises, as well as access lab analyses of substances available for purchase (i.e. pill testing kit results). The level of planning involved in purchasing online and the delay associated with shipping may also reduce spontaneous drug consumption. In addition to this, a lack of physical interaction in transactions may reduce the risk of personal violence to the consumer that accompanies a real-world criminal network business model. Importantly, Dr Martin says that while difficult to measure given the anonymity characteristic of the trade, the key user base is likely to be middle-class non-problematic drug users, rather than more marginalised groups that are most negatively affected by the current criminalisation model of drug use.