As long as drugs are illegal people are going to buy them on the black market. In our modern world there are two basic ways to do this, street dealers and online marketplaces. The online marketplace is far superior to the street dealer for a number of reasons. The first two don’t really need much explanation, the drugs on an online marketplace are cheaper and more readily available. Buying drugs from a street dealer is like buying books at a small local bookstore. The prices are going to be higher* and they may not have exactly what you are looking for. There might be decent substitutes, or they may be able to order you something that will arrive a week later, but the stock of the street dealer is limited by a lot of factors. Online marketplaces in drugs, much like Amazon’s marketplace in books, is going to have a lot of dealers who have a wide variety of wares and they are going to compete directly, keeping their prices lower.
The other area in which the online marketplace is superior is safety, which falls into three categories: violence, product, and law enforcement. First, by removing physical interaction with a drug dealer you remove any opportunity for them to rob you or hurt you. I’ve never been in a situation where this actually happens but when you deal with the black market the likelihood of violence goes up. There isn’t something magic about dealing drugs that leads to violence, it is only more violent than selling beer because it is on the black market and victims can’t go to the police for help. If a drug dealer doesn’t have any emotional or economic investment in keeping you as a customer they know they can rob you without any real repercussions. Also, if you live in a place where gangs control the drug trade there will be gang violence to control territory, violence that wouldn’t happen if they could sell their product in a store like other drugs (alcohol, tobacco, etc). If you haven’t seen the tv show “The Wire” you should check it out for a realistic fictionalized representation of this. In fact, if you haven’t seen “The Wire” you should probably close your browser and go watch it right now. Nothing I write is more important than that show.
Second, online marketplaces provide better product. It is true that the person selling to you is anonymous, but they still have a brand. Sellers on Agora had thousands of sales and ratings from customers. If you don’t please your customer because you sell a bad product, your deliveries aren’t covert, your deliveries are late, or you have bad communication, then you get bad ratings and people won’t buy from you. There are hundreds of competing dealers on Agora alone and bad dealers will quickly find themselves without customers. Again, this problem could be solved by legalization of drugs so that you could just go to a store and buy some MDMA that has a label saying “83% pure” or “mixed with meth for speedy feelings” or whatever. Bringing it out of the white market allows for transparency and would reduce OD’s or getting the wrong product. Even with online marketplaces providing a check on bad product it is still important to test your drugs yourself. I recommend the test kits from DanceSafe.
The third, and most important safety issue, is dealing with law enforcement. The single most dangerous thing about using drugs is the possible interaction with police. The government can (and does) do more harm to you and your life than simply using any chemical will. The social and economic harm done to families and individuals by the government surpasses the harm done by using drugs, even abusing them, by a hundred-fold or more. If the police said that they were just going to stop going after drug users and drug sellers who don’t harm others the world would be improved greatly instantly. When you deal with a street dealer you are exposing yourself to many law enforcement risks. Not only do you need to trust your dealer, but you need to trust all your dealers customers and their friends and family. You need to be confident in this web of relationships that nobody is a cop or has any incentive to inform the police of the dealer’s presence. You are also dealing with many layers of law enforcement. City cops, county sheriffs, state agencies, and the feds are all looking for drug dealers. You don’t have those problems when you order drugs from online marketplaces. City, county, and state agencies really don’t have the manpower or technological resources to try and tap into online marketplaces to look for dealers. Besides, even if they did it is unlikely they would be able to find anyone who is operating in their jurisdiction, particularly if they are looking for major dealers instead of small time users. When ordering from an online marketplace your only real law enforcement danger is the Feds, who spend their time trying to shut down the marketplace (which is basically like cutting of Hydra’s heads) or going after major drug dealers. And even if they somehow figured out that drugs were being delivered to your house, that is still not enough to arrest you. A package being delivered to you is not probably cause that you ordered it, anybody can have something mailed to any address. They would need to be able to breech several layers of security including Bitcoin itself, bitcoin scramblers, PGP communication, TOR browser, and any IP vanishing software that you use. We are talking millions of dollars only to bust a user who doesn’t know anything about the person who sold it to them. Online marketplaces being anonymous means you would be no use to law enforcement who are looking for bigger fish.
I know there are other marketplaces out there, but Agora shutting down is still bad for everyone in our society. More money is going to be wasted on the War on (Some) Drugs. More people are going to have their lives ruined by being thrown in jail even though they have never hurt anyone. More bodies are going to be found on the street from drug deals gone wrong. More police officers lives are going to be put in danger when they raid drug dealer’s homes. The online marketplace is not a perfect solution, but it is the least bad solution until we finally end this tyrannical, racist, wasteful, disgusting war on drugs.
* As an example, when I lived in LA I knew you could get 1 gram of MDMA in crystal form for about $100. On Agora (an online marketplace that recently shut down) you could get it for less than half that price. If you bought it in bulk the price may come down to $15-$20 a gram.