The future of illicit online drug trading: “fair-trade” cocaine and “locally farmed” opium

Is your cocaine fair-trade? It sounds like some sort of hipster joke, but drug dealers on the internet are now offering their customers “fair-trade” Bolivian cocaine, and opium from non-violent producers rather than cartels, in a bid to win business from conscientious users.

According to a new book, Drugs on the Dark Net, the online global market for illegal drugs is surging, and dealers have begun to use an array of marketing tools to increase their sales.

The closure of online marketplace Silk Road in October last year was hailed as a breakthrough in preventing the online sale of drugs by American police. But already sellers and customers have moved to other platforms. According to the BBC, online sales of drugs are now estimated to be twice as high as they were at the height of Silk Road’s popularity.

Since the closure of Silk Road, a new glut of online markets has emerged, where users employ digital encryption to communicate with one another and conduct transactions.

From a dealing perspective the online platforms make a lot of sense – no physical meetings, which can be more easily detected, and access to huge markets. As a result, the feedback which buyers give to dealers has, like Ebay, become a critical element in becoming a major player rather than traditional means – violence or intimidation.

According to journalist James Martin, writing in theconversation.com, users’ feedback can comment on the quality of the drugs, the ingenuity of disguised packages sent through the post, the service provided by particular dealers and so on. This helps dealers establish a financially rewarding reputation as a reliable source of quality drugs.

In addition, dealers are making full use of marketing ploys you might normally see somewhere as quotidian as a supermarket, with “two for one” offers, free samples, promotional campaigns such as “pot day” or during national holidays, and there are even outfits who promote the companies or organisations they support. One Australian dealer advertises their business as a “proud financial supporter of WikiLeaks and Bluelight”.

Meanwhile, others are claiming that the drugs they sell are “ethically” produced, “organic”, or come from conflict-free sources.

Here is a quote from one dealer: “We are a team of libertarian cocaine dealers. We never buy coke from cartels! We never buy coke from police! We help farmers from Peru, Bolivia and some chemistry students in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. We do fair trade!”

Another wrote: “This is the best opium you will try, by purchasing this you are supporting local farmers in the hills of Guatemala and you are not financing violent drug cartels.”

As Martin notes, “naturally it is impossible to verify these claims”.

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