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Why politicians and law enforcement should embrace Silk Road

Online drugs marketplaces are far better than the current alternative.

The author outside a perfectly innocent restaurant

Despite what certain newspapers and ‘current affairs’ shows would have you believe, the vast majority of drug users – even chronic drugs users – are happy, non-violent people who hold down regular jobs.  They don’t take drugs because there’s something lacking in their lives.  They take them because they enjoy them and because most recreational drugs don’t put the imbiber out of control like, say, alcohol.  And are far less likely to kill users than, say, tobacco.

The so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been a complete failure.  This is the opinion of pretty much all the people who ought to know – drug researchers, health professionals, former premiers, a former national police chief and former Defence Department chief Paul Barratt.  It seems the only people who don’t think so are politicians who need to appear ‘tough on crime’ to procure the votes of shock jock listeners who believe that all drug users are junkies ready to steal their wallet for their next fix.  Oh, and criminals.  Criminals don’t want prohibition lifted.

So if we start from the premise that prohibition is a failure and people will continue to want and procure drugs, then until there is a change in policy politicians and law enforcement should be tacitly supporting online drugs marketplaces.  Here’s why.

  1. Crime reduction.  When end-users order online, they order direct from a large-scale dealer in Europe or North America.  By the time drugs get to an end-user in a face-to-face transaction, the drugs have gone through multiple layers of dealers within Australia, many of them involved in organised crime.  All such middlemen are cut out in an online transaction.
  2. Violence eradication.  Users and dealers alike highlight the fact that anonymous online transactions completely eradicate any threat of violence.  This cannot always be said for face-to-face transactions.
  3. Harm reduction.  Users who have done their homework nearly always know exactly what they are getting from a particular online dealer due to the feedback system, the vendor’s desire for repeat business and the lively discussion forums.  An end-user in a face-to-face transaction rarely knows exactly what their pill or powder is, or what it has been cut with, as it has gone through the multiple levels of the distribution chain.  Inconsistency in quality and content leads to overdoses and unexpected reactions.
  4. Decrease in use of more problematic drugs. In February 2012, the Australian Institute of Criminology released findings that ecstasy use was decreasing because it was considered by users to be lower in quality and harder to obtain than previous. The report said decline in ecstasy use coincides with an increase in methamphetamine use, which is generally considered to be the more harmful and addictive of the two.  Although it is dangerous to extrapolate a conclusion from the coincidence, it stands to reason that if reasonably-priced quality MDMA is available, many users will switch back.
  5. Support network.  Silk Road, for example, has an entire forum with nearly 14,000 posts dedicated to drug safety.  Users provide advice on the safest methods of taking and mixing drugs, as well as support and advice for those who wish to quit using.

Of course, online drug marketplaces do not completely eradicate problems associated with drugs.  But those who want to take drugs will continue to procure them, whether from behind a computer screen or down a back alley.  Prohibition impacts price, not availability.  If a user’s drug of choice is unavailable, the user is likely to substitute another, possibly more dangerous substance rather than abstain.  Until there is a radical change in drug policy, the online marketplace seems to produce many of the outcomes those championing drug reform hope for.

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6 Responses

    1. It is innocent in the context that it is just a restaurant. I couldn’t resist posing outside it when I was entrenched in reporting on the SR drugs marketplace, but there’s no connection whatsoever.

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