In this post, I’m going to write up the process of buying something on Silk Road. The first thing to note is that the item I bought was not an illicit drug, otherwise I’d hardly be detailing the process on a public and identified blog. Rather, my purpose was ethnographic – if I am to study how the SR marketplace works, taking part in aspects of it is a useful learning tool. Reading an account of something, or listening to someone’s story, is one way of learning. Another way is to try it for yourself – and as I usually find, self-experience can result in learnings that you can’t necessarily predict!
Browsing the SR marketplace for items which were legal and which I would otherwise have bought led me to the Apparel section of the site. Although best know for its selection of psychoactive substances, SR also sells a wide range of goods and some services. In the Apparel section, I found jackets, bags, jeans, sunglasses, jewelery. Many of these listings were for faked designer goods, as opposed to stolen goods. I thought to myself that if I were in South East Asia on holiday and bought myself some ‘fake’ designer clothing, I wouldn’t get stopped at the Australian border and strip-searched. Almost all Australians I know will buy these much cheaper faked goods when overseas. So this appeared to be a good option for a ‘legal’ SR purchase.
From the would-be buyers perspective, it is important to get a sense of the trustworthiness of the vendor you are considering purchasing from. The item I liked the look of the best was FoxyGirl’s replica [insert designer name here] sunglasses. So I checked out FoxyGirl’s reputation. Searching for her name in the forums led me to her review thread, where I found links to her Tor ‘gallery’ of items for sale, and comments by other SR members who seemed satisfied with their purchases. One comment I found read:
Grabbed some [insert designer name here] from foxy and holy hell! I put em up next to my real ones and honestly, cant really tell they are fake at all. really good replicas!
shipping was super fast and very well packaged might I add! Thanks so much foxygirl! will be grabbing more stuff very very soon!
I then read carefully through FoxyGirl’s terms and conditions and her feedback, which was positive. She seemed like a friendly salesperson, willing to help. But most of the vendor profiles seem to be written in that way. I then messaged FoxyGirl to ask her for some more details about the sunglasses, and really just to suss out her legitimacy. True to her word, she got back to me with further information and in a professional yet friendly style.
At this point I was convinced – I was going to buy these sunglasses. Of course, in order to complete the transaction, I needed to have enough Bitcoin in my SR account.
Back in March, I decided to bite the bullet and buy $300 AUD of Bitcoin. I chose a time when the market was pricing BTC at $147 AUD per coin. I traded with a friend I met at a local #cryptoparty who had a listing on Bitcoin-OTC. In fact once I knew this guy and he taught me how to use encryption, buy BTC from him was as simple. First, I downloaded Bitcoin-QT, the original wallet software (this takes a few days due to the size of the blockchain which must be constantly updated to keep the network in-sync). Then, my friend sent me his bank details (encrypted, of course). I then deposited $300 in his bank account, taking a screenshot of the transaction as evidence. He promptly transferred me the equivalent in Bitcoin minus a small commission for his efforts. I then had 1.9 BTC.
One of the oddities about this context of buying with BTC which I had not anticipated was that since I bought them in March for $147 per coin, they continued to appreciate in value until they were worth over $250 each coin! During this time, I was meaning to buy my sunglasses but each day that passed, the price in BTC was getting lower and lower as the BTC value increased. I found that I didn’t want to purchase because what if tomorrow the price was even lower? This experience of wanting to hoard rather than buy is not something we are used to experiencing when using an inflationary currency, e.g. the AUD or the USD.
Of course I was a victim of my own greed. On April 11, BTC value plunged and suddenly my sunglasses were much more expense! If only I’d bought them when the BTC was valued at $250… Sigh! In fact, what actually happened was that I had decided to buy the sunglasses on April 10, and so I made a transfer from my local wallet to my SR wallet of .51 BTC, which at the time would have bought me two pairs and express postage! This was at 10pm at night and I was tired, and so it happens, it take a few hours for the transfer to occur from your wallet to the SR wallet. So I went to sleep. In the morning the price has plunged.
I waited for a little while, hoping the BTC value would come back up somewhere near the price I bought them for. But this didn’t look likely anytime soon, so I bought myself 1 pair (note, not the 2 I was going to get!) and express postage, for .75 BTC. The process essentially involved typing my name and address and confirming the order. FoxyGirl offers buyers the option of encrypting the address details using her public key for extra protection. As I am not buying an illegal item, I was happy to use my actual name and actual address and not to encrypt. To me, this is the weakest link of the system for the buyer (who is purchasing an illegal item) – they must decide what to do. It seems a lot of people who buy drugs on SR do ship to their real name and real address: I guess there is more chance it will arrive that way as long as Customs or the Post do not detect contraband in the package. But there is a lottery involved here – some packages do get checked and do get detained. In Australia it appears the odds of having a package detected is a bit higher than in other parts of the world.
I’ve had further messages with FoxyGirl to nominate what colour and size I would like, and now she is processing my order. Another custom to be aware of in SR transactions is ‘finalising’. Once the order moves from processing to in transit, as the buyer, I will have the option to ‘finalise’ which indicate the package has arrived and the vendor can receive their money from the SR escrow. As I am a first-time buyer and from Australia, there’s a high chance that I will be asked to finalise early, which means to press that finalise button before the vendor will ship the product. The rules on SR state that no-one should finalise early because then all the risk is transferred from the vendor to the buyer, but many top vendors request FE to protect themselves against buyer fraud. In my case, FoxyGirl had no requirement to FE, so I’ll do it the SR approved way. But in my browsing of drug listings, many top vendors selling MDMA or cannabis or cocaine require FE for Australians or for buyers with no history or negative history.
Now I just have to wait and see when (if?) my package arrives!
Update 29/4/13: my package arrived this morning and the goods all check out. Looks very legit. The slightly concerning part was that I was asked to sign for the goods. I’m sure most people buying from SR wouldn’t be so keen to sign for their package. Other than that, all went well.
April 20, 2013 No Comments
Greg Kasarik will be tripping on the steps of Victoria’s parliament house tomorrow from midday to protest for the rights of all Victorians to legally use Transcendent Compounds for spiritual and religious purposes.
Greg is making an important stand for religious freedom. He is bringing the public’s attention to a lesser understood and acknowledged reason for using psychoactive substances – to gain personal and spiritual insight, and to better understand where we come from and why we are here.
The text below is lifted from Greg’s Facebook event:
At midday on Wednesday 28 November, in celebration of completing two weeks of Hunger Strike 2012, Greg Kasarik will be taking a tab of LSD on the steps of Victoria’s Parliament House.
At the commencement of his Hunger Strike Greg had a last lunch of magic mushrooms.
Despite sending out a press release to the television and newspaper news outlets and forwarding a copy to the Premier’s office, cleverly entitled “Mystic Man to Munch Magic Mushrooms in Melbourne’s Marvellous Mall”, precisely nobody turned up.
No media. No Government and certainly no police. This (along with their heroic efforts at pretending we don’t exist: www.kasarik.com/
This is not going to happen and to up the ante a bit, I will be re-enacting my odyssey in the Mall, but this time with a single tab of LSD.
Will anybody care? Will anybody notice? Will the police tazer me to death, or just tell me that my puppy and I can’t sit on the steps after all? Come along and find out!
This isn’t a rally, or anything, as I am doing this as a private citizen and Saasha is doing it as a private dog, but if several thousand people happen to drop by unexpectedly, I certainly won’t complain. Feel free to invite anyone who might be interested.
I mean, what else is there to do now university is over for the year?
If you do decide to come along, I’d ask that you dress nicely, cover any tatts and do your best to look presentable in the public eye and behave politely at all times (even if the police do get aggressive). If anything does happen, you can guarantee that the media will be there to observe.
November 27, 2012 2 Comments
Having followed this issue closely and recently published an article in The Conversation outlining the various policy responses Australia might consider in response to emerging psychoactive drugs, I was surprised to read about the passing of new commonwealth legislation amending the Criminal Code 1995 in The Age yesterday.
From these documents, we see that the first reading of the bill occurred on 10 October, a period of public comment was available from 11 to 26 October, the bill was passed to Senate on 30 October. It was introduced to the Senate on 31 October and passed on 21 November.
While all this was happening, I was focusing on providing evidence to the NSW Inquiry into new synthetic drugs, with no idea of the development and public consultation period of this other important legislation. While clearly I need to be better informed, I also think the Commonwealth should consider increasing public awareness and the capacity for the public to input into this area, as the NSW Inquiry has done.
Moving onto the legislation…
While I’m not a lawyer and have only read the bill once (disclaimer: don’t rely on me for legal advice!), this is the bit I think is the most important to consider:
“301.13 Emergency determinations—serious drugs
(1) The Minister may, by legislative instrument, determine that:
(a) a substance, other than a growing plant, is a controlled drug or a border controlled drug; or
(b) a growing plant is a controlled plant or a border controlled plant.
(2) The Minister must not make a determination under subsection (1) unless he or she is satisfied:
(a) that there is an imminent and substantial risk that the substance or plant will be taken without appropriate medical supervision; and
(b) one or more of the following conditions is met:
(i) taking the substance or plant may create a risk of death or serious harm;
(ii) taking the substance or plant may have a physical or mental effect substantially similar to that caused by taking a listed serious drug;
(iii) there is limited or no known lawful use of the substance or plant in Australia, and the substance or plant has been found by a public official in the course of the performance of the official’s duties;
(iv) the substance or plant may pose a substantial risk to the health or safety of the public.
(3) The Minister must not make more than one determination under this section in relation to a particular substance or plant.”
Initial questions that arise after reading this paragraph for me are:
- Are we now in Australia going to have new drugs controlled entirely at discretion of parliamentary ministers?
- Section 2-b-ii If the new substance has an effect ‘substantially similar’ to that caused by a prohibited drug will be enough to ban it… even if it causes substantially less harm whilst still producing a similar psychoactive effect?
- Section 2-b Only one of these conditions needs to be met?
“301.17 Emergency determinations—publication
(1) The Minister must, on or before the day on which a determination under this Subdivision is registered (within the meaning of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003):
(a) make a public announcement of the determination; and
(b) cause a copy of the announcement to be published:
(i) on the internet; and
(ii) in a newspaper circulating in each State, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.”
My interpretation – folks will have absolutely no warning about said emergency determinations. No grace period for suppliers or users to remove these items from shelves or from their houses.
What I don’t understand is how will this legislative changes interact with State/Territory legislation. How will it be applied outside of federal jurisdictions? Any comments or thoughts on this issue would be appreciated.
Our federal response has gone in the opposite direction of our counterparts in New Zealand, who have proposed a regulatory model to deal with new psychoactive drugs.
While the NZ scheme would allow for the scenario of a lower risk alternative drug being legally available to use, the Australian response appears to assume that ANY substances that produces substantially similar effects to currently prohibited substances must be banned.
The problem is obvious to me. While there is no formal recognition of the functions and benefits of drugs that cannot be classed as formally ‘medical’ (that is, to get high, to enjoy oneself, to relax, to achieve personal insights, to explore altered conscious states), it is consistent to ban any substance with substantially similar effects to those currently prohibited.
Until our society can accept the critical importance of altering conscious states for human beings (and indeed many other animal species), we will fail* in our attempts to regulate emerging psychoactive substances.
* My definition of ‘fail’ may be different from yours or the government’s – I believe we have failed if our policies actually result in more rather than less drug-related harm.
Some would argue that if these new laws reduce access to emergent drugs, thereby reducing use, then less harm is produced. My hunch, however, is that access will continue, but our information about what is in these products and what we should advise people who choose to use them will be even more limited than it currently is. If my hunch is correct, we will be inducing more harm and providing less and less control.
We will also have to wait and see how these laws will play out in practice and when interacted with other legislative instruments.
I may be wrong on any of the above, so please correct me in the comments. Your input is greatly appreciated.
November 23, 2012 6 Comments
Have you found my website after reading a story about a cannabis cultivation study that is still looking for participants?
If this is you, please go to http://worldwideweed.nl
And if you are Australian, go straight to http://ndri.curtin.edu.au/research/grow/
Thanks to Melissa Jenkins of AAP for filing the story on interim results from the study, covered in:
November 18, 2012 No Comments
November 17, 2012 No Comments
Synthetic cannabis is a lab-made product that mimics the effects of cannabis to give users a high when smoked. It has been sold in Australia since 2011 under various brand names, with a range of chemical compositions.
The product presents a unique challenge for drug policymakers. Despite 18 months of legislative action intended to ban synthetic cannabis, people in some states claim [mp3] they can still walk into a sex store or tobacconist and purchase it. Clearly the legislative changes have not been totally effective.
Who uses synthetic cannabis in Australia?
Last month, we published findings from the first survey of synthetic cannabis users in Australia.
When we asked people why they had first used synthetic cannabis, its legal status was an important reason. While 39% stated that they first tried the product because it was legal, 23% mentioned its availability was important, and 8% mentioned its non-detection in drug testing as a key factor.
We also found that almost all synthetic cannabis users who participated in our study had previously or were currently using cannabis.
Furthermore, evidence from this study and from the wider literature (for example, by Christopher Hoyte and Maren Hermanns-Clausen) indicates that synthetic cannabis products may be as risky as or more risky than cannabis itself. This is due to the lack of information about the ingredients in synthetic cannabis products and the pharmacological profiles of different synthetic cannabis varieties. We have virtually no information about longer term effects of these drugs.
The current state of regulation
A year ago, we published a summary of the legal status of synthetic cannabinoids in Australia. Since then, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) enacted new laws that prohibited eight broad classes of synthetic cannabinoids as well as any drugs that mimic cannabis.
These laws were intended to capture synthetic cannabinoids that were yet to be identified or even synthesised, in order to put an end to the cat and mouse game, where manufacturers introduce a new product immediately after legislators prohibit an old one.
Despite the TGA laws being ratified six months ago, there does not appear to have been any prosecutions of manufacturers based on these laws to date.
While importation falls under federal legislation, most drug laws are state-based. And while the relevant legislation in some states such as Victoria refers to the TGA’s legislation, the drug laws in other states such as New South Wales do not.
Our advice from law enforcement representatives in these states suggests that prosecution using the TGA’s legislation can only occur in federal jurisdictions (such as border control) and requires involvement by federal agents.
Nonetheless, even in Victoria – where some stores have reportedly had their synthetic cannabis confiscated since the TGA’s laws were ratified – it is unclear whether charges will be laid. Until charges are laid and these cases tried, the impact of the new laws remains unclear.
In another development, Queensland moved to independently implement new legislation redefining a “dangerous drug” as anything intended to “have a substantially similar pharmacological effect” to a banned substance.
But this legislation was not ratified, which meant that Queensland police eventually dropped charges against a number of retailers whose synthetic cannabis was confiscated.
Assessing the regulatory options
Given the ambiguity regarding synthetic cannabis, a NSW parliamentary committee is assessing the regulatory options for newer synthetic drugs. Last month, the committee heard evidence from government officials, industry representatives and researchers.
We outlined the following five possible regulatory options for the committee, while also recognising that the evidence to guide decision-making is limited.
The first is to continue banning individual substances as they become known. This option results in legislation and services playing catch up to an ever increasing array of new substances. A risk is that it may contribute to more harm by driving newer and lesser known products onto the market.
The second regulatory option is to ban broad categories of substances, including ones that activate the same brain systems as currently prohibited substances. But these broader laws have so far not been successfully prosecuted. They also assume that drugs of a similar category or that act on similar parts of the brain have similar harm profiles, when this may or may not be the case.
The third is to use currently available laws for the regulation of medicinal or consumer products, as some experts recently suggested. While this option may have merit, it offers only limited control.
The fourth option is to follow New Zealand’s lead and implement a specific regulatory regime for new psychoactive substances. Under the proposed system, distributors will be required to establish the safety of their products at their own expense before they may be legally sold. This new regulatory regime offers an alternative policy response to mitigate against the harmful cycle of new, untested drugs being sold as “legal highs”, but its success is yet to be established.
The fifth option is to design a new legislative framework that regulates all psychoactive substances. This option is consistent with recent calls for drug law reform. However, the Gillard government has indicated that it will not consider this option, and we still know very little about what the supply, use and harms of synthetic cannabis would look like if cannabis were legally available.
Even though there is no clear evidence to guide policy making in this area, we do know that the emergence of newer synthetic drugs is a complex challenge that requires consideration of all available policy options. We await the recommendations from the NSW Inquiry, due in 2013, which are likely to guide the direction of both state and commonwealth policy reform.
November 17, 2012 No Comments
Last night Episode 4 of Enpsychedelia was released. Along with some other great content, it features an interview with me about the cannabis growers project and other musings on drug policy, the influence of research on government and collective action towards critically evaluating and reforming our drug laws.
You can listen here:
Thanks Nick Wallis for the opportunity. Hope to do it again and looking forward to the next installment.
September 10, 2012 No Comments
Wow it’s been months since I’ve posted. Never fear, I’ve been working away, launching projects and trying to finish off others. Looking forward to writing some dedicated blog posts soon.
In the meantime, an announcement that I’ll be presenting some work from my PhD at VSURF (the Victorian Substance Use Research Forum) next Friday, see below. I’m looking forward to it!
Date: Friday August 17, 4pm
Title: Drugs and online/offline sociability: Understanding anonymity in an era of media convergence
Presenter: Monica Barratt (NDRI, Curtin University)
Venue: Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, 54 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Abstract: Most research about illicit drugs and the internet treats the internet as a tool for consuming and sharing information, delivering interventions, and/or purchasing drugs. In contrast, this paper considers the internet as facilitating multiple ‘online places’ where social interaction occurs, relationships are made and maintained, identities are performed and meanings are negotiated. This paper draws on analyses from a qualitatively-driven mixed-method study of public internet forums where party drugs were discussed by Australians in 2007–08. It outlines the variety of ways that people who use party drugs managed the convergence of online and offline friendship networks and subsequent changes in their drug use practices. In a context of increased media convergence, online anonymity has become more difficult to realise, and new social-media interventions that rely on identified social networks cannot be as easily engaged by ‘hidden’ drug users. ‘Old’ pseudonymous media (e.g., internet forums) may still offer opportunities not afforded by new media forms in the current context of drug prohibition.
August 10, 2012 2 Comments
Over the last 7 days, Silk Road has been in the Australian news media again, with an announcement last Friday by the AFP that they had arrested 20 people as part of an ongoing operation targeting drugs sent through the post.
Last week I really enjoyed being the guest on RRR’s Byte Into It, a weekly technology program. And earlier this week I was one of a number of experts involved in Hack’s story on drugs in the mail: they also interviewed representatives from the AFP, Customs and Australia Post, as well as Australians who had received drugs via post.
Listen to Byte Into It (16 May 2012)
Listen to Hack (21 May 2012)
Next week I’ll be presenting at the ISSDP conference (International Society for the Study of Drug Policy) in Canterbury, Kent, UK. I’m looking forward to being immersed in a more international perspective on drug policy issues as well as being able to meet face-to-face so many researchers that I’ve only ever read or emailed!
May 23, 2012 No Comments
The following three videos were part of the Yarra Drug and Health Forum, at the Fitzroy Town Hall, April 16, 2012.
May 11, 2012 No Comments