Since the shut down of major cryptomarket Silk Road, the “dark net” drug market has boomed, nearly doubling in size. At the Conversation, James Martin provides a reasonable take on the increasingly professional practice of online drug distribution and its “socially beneficial implications.”

For dealers, selling drugs online offers significant advantages over face-to-face retailing. They have immediate access to a huge and steadily growing international customer base. They are also able to sell drugs without physically interacting with customers, thereby decreasing the risk of arrest by undercover police.

Perhaps most importantly, the anonymity and geographical separation of online drug trading eliminates the possibility of violence at the hands of rival dealers. This differs significantly from the conventional drug trade where organised crime groups use serious, often lethal force to eliminate competitors and establish control over drug-retailing territory and trafficking routes.

Maybe free-market-style drug dealing lacks the romanticism of hopping into cars until Bud pulls a sweaty baggie out of his sock for you, but there are definitely some perks. Imagine — competition is dictated by customer feedback on product quality and services, not beheadings, beatings, murders and intimidation.

Other online distributors’ “corporate retailing techniques” include offering “bulk purchasing discounts, loyalty programs and periodic promotional campaigns” like free samples. There even some cute tactics “mimicking corporate advertising strategies” with claims like “proud financial supporter of WikiLeaks and Bluelight,” which are, of course, not verifiable or likely. But then again, that’s advertising, folks!

At the more extreme end of socially progressive marketing strategies used by online dealers are those that involve the promotion of drugs on the basis of supposedly “ethical”, “fair trade”, “organic” or “conflict-free” sources of supply.

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!

– Excerpt from seller page – Evolution, accessed December 28, 2013

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.

– Excerpt from seller page – Evolution, accessed March 28, 2014

Free-market exploitation isn’t a great thing, but some sort of corporate responsibility — reviews that the sellers cannot alter, for example — would help curb some of the troubling effects of drugs, particularly overdoses due to unregulated dosage and poisonings by unknown adulterating substances.

The article doesn’t go into various issues that occur when these illicit business attempt to integrate with legal ones, like in the case of the recent Fedex bust (amateurs). Hamilton Nolan recently outlined many arguments in favor of full legalization and regulation of drugs — the relative harm of illegal substances, the actual harm of the “War on Drugs” and the fact that “love of intoxication is just one of many human follies,” and a very ancient one at that. It’s probably time to legalize it — all of it — but is it time to go corporate, with all the benefit and shadiness that entails? (Image: Stock, Huffington Post)