Though the online illicit black market Silk Road developed a reputation for being an "Ebay for Drugs" (before being shut down by the feds), two professors have taken a closer look and found otherwise. In actuality, it appears as though a significant amount of drug sales could best be classified as "business-to-business"—drug manufacturers selling to drug dealers.
Therefore University of Lausanne criminologist David Decary-Hetu and University of Manchester law professor Judith Aldridge want us to consider the idea that the growing interest in online illegal drug vending (Silk Road saw an increase of 600 percent in drug sales over the course of a single year) could actually reduce violence in the illegal drug market. Wired took note of the study:
"This new breed of drug dealer is… likely to be relatively free from the violence typically associated with traditional drug markets," reads the paper, the title of which calls Silk Road "a paradigm-shifting criminal innovation." "Whereas violence [in the traditional drug trade] was commonly used to gain market share, protect turfs and resolve conflicts, the virtual location and anonymity that the cryptomarket provides reduces or eliminates the need – or even the ability – to resort to violence.
"In the drugs cryptomarket era," the paper adds, "having good customer service and writing skills…may be more important than muscles and face-to-face connections."
They don't have any numbers to back up their ideas as factual, and Silk Road's sales, despite their growth, were a drop in the bucket of all drug sales. But the professors' point is that if the online drug market expands at the rate it did during Silk Road's existence, certain market pressures would be relieved.
The report can be downloaded here. Color me a bit skeptical. A certain amount of the drug violence worldwide is based on control of space to grow and manufacture drugs, and the market going virtual won't change the situation (but then, how much of that violence is between drug cartels and governments?). The inability for those who are engaged in the drug trade to turn to the police and courts when they're victimized remains a problem. People may not get mugged or killed in drug-related violence on the street level as much, but we could see more cybercrime among participants. The drug market will still be a competitive market, and because the government insists on prosecution, participants still lack protection. A virtual marketplace may introduce a significant amount of safety, but not nearly as much as decriminalization.