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Study Under Review Claims Online Drug Dealing Cuts Violence in Drug Trade

There is little debate about how badly the war on drugs has failed since Richard Nixon started it in 1971. Since then prison populations have skyrocketed, Black and Hispanic populations have been disproportionately targeted, and (at least in 2008) we lead the world in the use of drugs. Drug cartels in Mexico have been at war with Mexican and American drug enforcement authorities for years all while earning billions of dollars.

To persist in attempting to fight this metaphorical fire with metaphorical and (sometimes) literal fire would be a waste of blood and treasure. We are now faced with a two-sided problem:

1. Combatting the use of highly addictive drugs, including synthetic drugs like methamphetamines and bath salts.

2. Combatting the criminal element that is both rich and brutal that rose as a consequence to our prohibitive drug policies.

The solution to the first problem remains elusive, but perhaps the answer to the second problem is technology. According to a report from WIRED, a new paper released online details research by two professors that discovered that the “dark web may have a silver lining…geekier, less violent drug dealers.”

The “dark web” is a subsection of the internet where you could find sites like the Silk Road, which serves as an online marketplace for contraband. That particular site was taken down by law enforcement in the fall of 2013, but since then “dozens of copycats” have appeared online.

The Silk Road employed a number of methods which obscured users’ identities and geographic locations, which not only kept them “safe” from cops but also each other. Thus this “new breed of drug dealer” has much better success in their business through “technical know-how and online customer service, not a propensity for violence.” In fact, because of the location-independent nature of how this business operated, not only was violence an impossibility but it simply wasn’t needed.

The study is still being peer-reviewed and has been criticized for “convoluted logic based on assumptions about the source of violence in the drug world” and a lack of statistical data to back up their claims. Still rather than “eBay for drugs” the Silk Road was a kind of “business-to-business” enterprise, “placing it closer to the cartel-controlled drug producers behind much of the trade’s violence.”

Like any revolutionary scientific discovery, the questions it raises are far more compelling than the answers. Further study along this line could confirm this paper’s findings or debunk them. Yet, sites like the Silk Road may have possibly enabled non-violent drug entrepreneurs to wrest power from bloodthirsty gangsters and, ultimately, saving lives.


Photo by Don Hankins via Flickr Creative Commons

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.