The Mancunion

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Darknet drug markets are making drug-taking safer

Drug taking could be made safer with legalisation and regulation of the drug market, to give people the information they deserve


The ‘deep web’ is a term used to describe parts of the internet that cannot be found using regular search engines. It has become the tool of anarcho-capitalists to fight the current onslaught on internet privacy by supposedly free and democratic countries; a gateway to material deemed unlawful, ranging from revelations of government activities to child pornography.

Almost synonymous with the ‘deep web,’ or ‘darknet’, are drug markets. Despite the demise of Silk Road and Silk Road 2—both were shut down by the US government in 2013 and 2014 respectively—the amount of markets selling drugs is on the rise. It appears that, in hydra-like fashion, when one market is shut down, more rise.

Every day, thousands are involved in transactions of illegal substances ranging from heroin to cannabis. Carol Cadwalladr, a writer for The Guardian, has described these drug markets as something resembling a parallel universe where eBay has been taken over by drug cartels. This illustrates how easy it is becoming for people to purchase illegal substances off the web.

Running parallel with the rise of these drug markets is the lengthy and largely failing war on drugs. Johann Hari, author of the critically acclaimed “Chasing the Scream”, calculates that the war has lasted almost one hundred years and has resulted in countless deaths—certainly ranging in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions—leading him to provide a convincing argument for looking at alternatives.

The alternatives must be geared towards the legalisation and regulation of drugs, and drug markets provide a positive model of what society could look like if this was done.

Like in any competing market, the most successful drug market is the market that provides the best product and service. This has led to the drugs on these sites being purer than what is found on the streets. Now, the phrase ‘purer drugs’ is likely to spark fear into the anti-drug brigade, but it is unclear whether or not their fears are warranted.

Most drug-related deaths are caused by accidental poisoning. According to government statistics, 79 per cent of male drug misuse deaths were caused by accidental poisoning in 2014. For females, it’s 69 per cent. Accidental poisoning is largely caused by one of four factors: Either the drug wasn’t the drug the user thought they were taking, the drug was laced with something more harmful, the user took too much, or the user combined it with other substances.

Out of the four factors, the first two can be easily prevented by buying from a reputable and reliable source. This is where online drug markets can be brought back in, for they are providing better quality, and more reliable drug service. Increasingly, the most successful vendor is the one that has the most favourable views, which are gained by buyers using their service and testing their products, ensuring that the vendor isn’t passing off one drug for another. The purer the drug, the better the review. The purer a drug is, the less likely it will be laced with something more dangerous, or worse, sold as something not advertised.

Now, imagine a world where drug-taking was legalised, and regulated by government-approved standards. These outlets could be modeled on drug market philosophy in terms of the quality of the drugs leading to safer drug taking. This wouldn’t prevent all drug-related deaths, for there is still a possibility of drug abuse, but it would significantly lower the amount of preventable deaths.

The last two factors I mentioned as causes of accidental, drug-related deaths can be reduced with better education about drug taking, something you see more and more of on the deep web.

Currently, the government is forced to provide very little substantive evidence to teach people about the effects of drugs. Often they are used as scare-tactics to try to prevent people from taking them, but this is becoming less and less effective, and in fact, more dangerous.

People are starting to see through the propaganda spouted out by the government when it comes to drug-taking. Take a recent anti-marijuana campaign featuring a ‘stoner sloth’ designed to curb use as an example of the ridiculous lengths governments go to in their crusade on drugs. It only takes one positive experience of taking a particular substance to make people disbelieve any information that was previously given that tried to say that nothing positive can come from drug-taking. This invariably leads people to self-educate themselves about drugs, experimenting with different substances whether legal or illegal and in different quantities. You can now see the dangerous nature of the current anti-drug campaign on people’s drug taking.

Drug markets are providing a better alternative for our current situation. More and more frequently, vendors are listing their drugs with instructions about how much to take and what effects can be expected. In an article for The Guardian, Jamie Bartlett observed one browsing customer ask, “Do you think I could just buy a tiny amount of marijuana?” to which the vendor responded: “Hi there! Thanks for the mail. My advice is that starting small is the smart thing to do, so no problem if you want to start with 1 gram. I would too if I were you.” Better information than the stoner sloth, that’s for sure. With the right education and information, people are able to make informed decisions. Of course, there will still be accidental deaths, but the number will reduce significantly enough to warrant decriminalisation.

Again, we can imagine a world where drugs are decriminalised and drug education is reliable because people trust the government to not give them propaganda due to ulterior motives. This would lower the amount of deaths caused by taking too much of a substance or mixing with other substances because, without an ulterior motive, the correct information will be given out about how much people ought to take and what to not combine it with.

Drug markets are of course not all positive, for they still sell products I wouldn’t like to see decriminalised. For example, I don’t believe cocaine or crystal meth should ever be legal. However, these markets provide a vision of what could be if we were to end the war on drugs. It surely is time to stop seeing these drug markets as an undesirable consequence of an anarcho-capitalist society and more as a guideline towards a safer society.

Disclaimer: Alister Pearson has never taken drugs in his life, nor used drug markets. He once thought he smelt some marijuana at a festival he went to, and admits he didn’t report it to the police, but that is all.