The Silk Road is sometimes described as the eBay of illegal drugs. It’s actually more like Etsy, with its do-it-yourself philosophy and friendly community. Just like Etsy, you place your order with a stranger on the other side of the world, pay using electronic money, and in a couple of days, your package arrives. Except that instead of a dream catcher made of hair and toenail clippings, you get heroin!
The Silk Road runs on Bitcoin, the untraceable electronic currency that has been in the news thanks to its spectacular rise in value and subsequent crash. It turns out it’s not just the creepy Winkelvoss twins who are sitting on piles of theoretical money, but dealers on the Silk Road too. When Bitcoin rose to over $200, some were lucky enough to sell high. Others weren’t so fortunate—one vendor, SuperTrips, claims to have lost $1.5 million when the price crashed.
I talked to some of the good people of the Silk Road about Bitcoin and life selling drugs online. They were a little paranoid, understandably, but surprisingly accommodating too. Apart from the guy who called me “dumber than the queen’s cunt hairs,” which was creative, at least. For obvious reasons, they all declined to give real names or photographs.
Greg – Dope Vendor - 37
VICE: How did you get into selling drugs online?
Greg: I heard about Silk Road through a news article. I thought it was a scam at first, but then I knew some people who said they'd tried it out and said it works.
Is mailing dope your full-time job?
No, it is not my full-time job. It is just an extra thing I do on the side. I think marijuana should be legal, so I provide it to people. Other countries (and some states in the US) have legalized it, which clearly shows it isn't a problem for users or society.
Is it easier than hustling out on the street corner?
It takes a lot more time to package orders than it does to simply hand someone a bag with weed in it IRL. The higher prices on here reflect the time and effort that goes in to every order. There are a lot of scammers on here—requesting refunds very quickly, saying it was underweight etc. But most people are friendly because they are happy they have received the product they paid for.
Aren’t you afraid of the law?
It does cross my mind, but I have myself covered well. If a package went straight to a police officer, it wouldn't worry me because it cannot be traced back to me.
Paul – Oxycodone Vendor – 66
How did you get involved in the Silk Road?
Paul: We were looking for a new place to vend. About three years ago the crackdown officially started on online pharmacies. And just prior to that Google was fined something like a billion dollars for accepting pharmacy ads. Like many people, an article on Gawker lured me, as well as a large percentage of people to SR.
How big is your operation?
It’s a full-time job for six people. I can't imagine that any vendors who make over $1000–$5000 per day are one-man bands. It's impossible. Customer service and return business account for nearly 80 percent of sales, and then you have logistics and packing which are the most mundane and time consuming chores. Our average order is 300–500 pills, ten to 20 times per week depending on time of year, Bitcoin price, etc.
Does it weird you out that everyone is so friendly?
Friendly? Wait until a package comes a day late and see how friendly customers are. SR is sort of a Mexican standoff. The customers know the vendor has their name and address. On the flip side, a customer has the ability to ruin a vendor's rating, potentially causing them to lose a significant amount a business. There are some scammers, passive-aggressive customers, and occasional assholes who know how to successfully exploit vendors.
Are you afraid it’ll all get shut down one day?
The Silk Road proved a black marketplace is viable. If for some reason SR would shut down tomorrow, eventually 95 percent of the vendors would move over to another site.
Neuroplex – Xanax vendor – Declined to give age
How much Xanax are you mailing?
Neuroplex: We have had a stock shortage, which we had to increase our prices for, during that time we only had about 20–40 orders a week. But once we're back in full swing, I estimate it will return to about 180–300.
Has the volatility of the Bitcoin effected your business?
Yeah, I lost in excess of $25,000.
How do you make sure your customers are satisfied?
I make sure adequate stealth is provided by making the express envelope feel like a normal business document. I also always provide the highest-quality product and try to deliver these products as quick as possible. It’s a very good system, being able to safely source consistent high-quality product (for consumers). Then for vendors it's a great opportunity to ensure your customers are getting clean and high-quality products, whilst safely making money.
Ace – MDMA and Weed Vendor – 24
Is this your full time job?
Ace: In some respects it is. It’s slowly taking over my usual job, which is part-time, anyway, but was originally full-time; the pay from this became a bit too nice for me to keep working that hard. I’d rather just kick back, take orders, smoke some weed, and do it all again for a very good paycheck, so I’m not complaining. I can take about 10–20 orders a day, so anywhere from 70 to 140 a week, but saying that I can grow if need be. But I’d rather keep it to that so my customers feel like they’re getting a good customer-service relationship, and everything that goes along with that.
Do you feel like it’s less dangerous selling drugs online?
Well I've done it all from selling weed to growing it at a commercial level and in real life. I’ve had a gun at my head and had to do some questionable things myself. But that's the way it is when you’re dealing IRL. But when you’re on SR, all you have to worry about is the police and a bad review. So I’d say it’s more safe for the seller and for the buyer—it’s all good.
Does it trip you out, the demand for drugs online?
This whole site is just proof that full prohibition of drugs is clearly not the magic key. If that doesn’t 100 percent make sense it's because I’m fairly high.
Alex McClintock is a freelance writer from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter at @axmcc