Drug Use 2.0
Luxury item or addictive drug? Whether belladonna and locoweed in the Middle Ages or LSD and crystal meth in the twentieth century: Each cultural milieu decides what is acceptable and what is not. When a substance is forbidden, a shadow economy blossoms. But drugs are no longer just sold on the streets anymore. How the darknet became the new marketplace. A report.
“Almost like Amazon”
A masked figure approaches me at the agreed rendezvous point somewhere in a town in Austria. I’m asked to slip a bag over my head. I hear a car pull up and kindly receive help getting in. We’re on the road for what feels like an eternity. The combination of corona mouth/nose protection and blindfolding sack makes it difficult to breathe. The car stops. We get out. I climb countless stairs in the darkness. I can take the bag off. I stand in a room, disorderly and sparsely furnished. A big table, dirty dishes, a few scattered chairs, many packages. Traces from packing the goods on the table. White powder and dried cannabis leaves lying around everywhere. Quail eggs and vodka stowed in the refrigerator. A duffel bag packed full of cash sits in the corner. Hundreds of plants under heat lamps in the next room. An absurd scene – like in a cheesy film. A person of imposing stature, disguised from head to toe, finally enters the room. My interview partner seems polite and well-educated. My discomposure abates…
Irena Pejčić: Why do you sell on the darknet and not on the streets?
Online drug dealer: The main reason is anonymity, nobody recognizes me there. I really value my private sphere, and onion services that anonymize connection data facilitate this. Plus, I don’t have to deal with nutty people at dubious places. I’m safe, and my customers are safe.
Do you sell on Instagram?
No, of course not. Anonymity evaporates there completely, it’s way too risky. Instagram is anyway suicide! All of my colleagues would agree to that.
Since when have you been dealing?
I began about five years ago. The initial plan was to get an impression of the scene beforehand, not to just start dealing wildly. For roughly half a year I researched in diverse darknet discussion forums about marketplaces, buyers, vendors, the product range and prices.
“In the beginning I needed to market the goods, give a sample here and there.”
Then what happened?
The opening of the first shop on Dream Market. (note: a virtual marketplace in the darknet, which was shut down in 2019) It was clear to me that in the beginning I needed to market the goods, give a sample here and there. That led to the first deals, and in no time I was active around the globe, represented on every continent except Africa.
How was that like for you?
Naturally, it flattered my ego (laughs), especially the positive feedback from the customers. The problem is that the anonymity of some vendors leads them to set up fake accounts to send good comments about their own shop. So the real feedback made me all the prouder.
Where do you see the feedback?
On the pages of the shop is a public area where the products are listed. When you select a product, the ratings of the buyers appear. They inform each other about the quality of the goods, the duration and type of effect, and so on. Basically, reviews are shared and stars are clicked, almost like Amazon.
“The demand for cannabis has increased.”
Who is your target group?
Hard to say, given the anonymity. Some consumers report about their private lives in these forums, but I doubt the credibility of this info.
What does your product range include?
Generally speaking, I have specialized on one specific substance. Every now and then, I expand the selection, depending on the demand or the opportunities that emerge at a certain point in time. There are seasonal fluctuations. At the moment, the demand for cannabis has increased, that’s why I have an additional 250 plants. I guess I always adapt my business to the market (laughs).
Where do you get the “specific substance”?
From different countries.
How do you access these marketplaces?
With a Tor Browser, a network that anonymizes connection data, and .onion sites, domains that conceal data. Just google it – research isn’t illegal.
Can you name a few cool examples?
Currently, White House Market, a virtual marketplace in the darknet, and Dread, a discussion forum in the darknet, are the most frequented. Everyone is there. The directory Dark.fail, for example, a collection of links to .onion sites, provides a list of active and legal darknet sites.
“Are you fed up with your job? Sometimes.”
Which forms of payment are there?
Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Monero are the three common cryptocurrencies. They just have different values. Bitcoin is used most often, followed by Monero, which – in contrast to Bitcoin – places a stronger focus on the private sphere of the user. Litecoin is based technically on the Bitcoin system. In the meanwhile it is relatively simple to acquire them. There are countless cryptocurrency ATMs around the world.
How is it possible to make contact with you?
I use the instant messenger Jabber, an encrypted message service. EncroChat (note: provider of E2E encrypted communication networks and devices) was shut down by EUROPOL in summer 2020. In my opinion, the messaging app SKY ECC is going to share the same fate.
How do you thinking dealing will work in the future?
Both online and on the streets. I believe that the legalization of certain substances is the only way that will lead to a serious change. One example is the legalization of cannabis in certain states of the USA. It immensely curbed the black market and should give governments around the globe some food for thought.
Which drugs are currently “in fashion”?
Cocaine is seen as a status symbol. It is constantly in demand and can be found everywhere. It sells really well in Austria, too, especially in Vienna. Every third person in Vienna uses coke. The same goes for Amsterdam, London, New York, Seattle, and Zurich.
Have you heard about new designer drugs with perhaps less side-effects? If so, which ones?
That would be 4-FA, para-fluoroamphetamine. It’s a stimulant but has less side-effects than common amphetamine – the risk of physical damage is lower. It is just hard to come across. There are also forums and subforums which provide information describing different turns – the effect of a drug – and how it can be achieved. Consumers share their stories in detail, it’s its own cosmos.
Do you give your customers usage tips?
In any case, because we’re dealing with the pure form of the substances. As I mentioned, this info can be found on the public sections of the shop site – fitting to the respective product and the preferred consumer behavior. The customers should have a pleasant trip. Generally, I recommend test sets to check the quality of the product. It is easy to order them on the Internet.
Would you refuse a sale to someone?
Who am I to make such a decision?! That’s not my responsibility. Nevertheless, I indicate potential side-effects and the consequences of excessive consumption and the like.
Do you have pangs of conscience because of your profession or do you think you are doing good for people?
I’ve always been of the opinion that people have to judge things for themselves. Things have happened in the past, but they were rare and usually involved unexperienced customers, who likely ignored the consumption tips.
Are you fed up with your job?
Otherwise, do you like what you do?
Yes! I like the idea that strangers are high on my stuff at this very moment and are enjoying life. Afterwards, they outright thank me for being able to be on the drug with their friends for three days straight.
“There’s nothing like teamwork!”
Is there something like professional honor among online dealers?
No, not at all! They’re perfidious people. No one has a face to lose. Given the anonymity, some people tend to deceitful behavior. For example, many vendors stretch their stuff with milk powder. In my opinion, that’s extremely concerning.
The biggest beginner’s mistake?
Not keeping a low profile. Simply put, personally delivering the package or constantly using the same delivery service. A basic rule is to always delegate these activities to others. There’s nothing like teamwork!
This written interview was preceded by numerous anonymous meetings with the same informant over the course of several months at different locations in Austria. The conversation that follows summarizes the essence of the informant’s statements and has been substantially shortened. It explicitly involves quotes and subjective claims, which could not be verified in all cases. The responses do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the author and the publisher.
This interview was published in C/O Vienna Magazine #4: The Wasted Issue