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May 7, 2021

eBay for ecstasy: the online drugs marketplace

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Dylan O’Donnell

We live in a modern society where I can admit that, like the president of the United States of America, I have tried and enjoyed marijuana at some point in my life. I can admit it without it affecting my reputation to any great extent because at least 30 per cent of Australians can say the same thing, according to study published by the federal health department. Perhaps I’ll regret that later in life when I run for office, but if a female atheist can be prime minister, surely I haven’t completely ruled myself out.

Recently mainstream Australian media have been reporting about the ‘dark web’. In particular a website called ‘Silk Road’, where people can buy and sell drugs online. I wondered how easy this would be, and how it compares with a real-life drug deal. Since I graduated from the lofty academic halls of tertiary education, I have to confess I lack the street cred or the connections to pull that sort of thing off any more. I have visited Nimbin, however, where the openness of drug trade is, well, cultural.

And yet even there the threat of persecution exists with local police executing random searches of outbound tourists, which can put many potential buyers off. A drug conviction seriously threatens future job prospects and international travel in a way my casual admission of prior use does not.

After a few quick searches and installing the anonymising TOR software used by journalists, military, political activists and criminals, I was logged into the Silk Road Marketplace. At this point, my mind is blown. The news reports are true. The anonymity afforded by the TOR network, and the legal logistics of detecting and tracing drugs sent by Australia Post, have created the perfect arrangement for buyers and sellers. The sellers never have to meet the buyers, or even know their name as the parcels are never addressed to the actual recipient. The buyers don’t have to expose themselves by physically meeting drug dealers. For both parties the risks, both legal and physical, seem diminished here.

The site shows statistics and feedback about sellers so buyers can have confidence about what they are buying. It really is just like eBay in this regard, and although some transactions may ultimately fail, most active sellers have ratings between 95 and 100 per cent. A handful of dedicated Australian sellers who only post domestically seem to be well regarded in the Silk Road forums.

I don’t know whether to be deeply impressed or shocked. Rifling through the categories in the marketplace, my eyes widened. Cocaine (from Columbia), marijuana, speed, LSD, ecstasy, MDMA, Valium, Xanax, and even Viagra. The menu is certainly more diverse than Nimbin’s.

This was all much easier than I expected it to be. I hadn’t left the house, and the software involved wasn’t as technical as I’d assumed. For an underground ‘dark web’, it’s very well organised. At this point I have 0.5 grams of cocaine sitting in the online shopping cart, and some bitcoins from mtGox (an online exchange on the regular web) ready to buy it. All I have to do is finalise the order and tell the sender the name and address I’d like it posted to.

I lost my nerve! Again. This is what having a family and approaching middle age will do to you. What happened to the subversive young man I was at university, railing against ‘the system’? The risk, however small, simply isn’t worth it for me. I’d still like to travel internationally and I’m sure future customs checkpoints wouldn’t take too kindly to a cocaine importation charge on my criminal record.

I emptied my shopping cart and put in two generic Viagra pills instead. I don’t need any help down there, but I’m much less frightened of a love letter from the boner police than pissing off any Columbian drug cartels and associated drug units.

In many ways, Silk Road definitely seems easier than having to drive to Nimbin and shuffle nervously with shady dealers and unknown products. It appears to be safer for both the buyer and the seller and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. I can see many middle-class couples who are long out of ‘the scene’ being able to order pills, or a bit of marijuana or even prescription meds at their own leisure.

At the time of writing this article there are more than 50 Australian drug traders listed on the site, all trading happily, even after the intensity media attention and police scrutiny.

If I didn’t know better, I would say they are getting away with it.

For the unabridged version of this story, visit www.dnadigital.com.au.

 


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