Professors Argue Silk Road Reduced Drug Violence

By McCarton Ackerman 06/03/14

The controversial site has spawned a new breed of drug dealer that thrives on anonymity and doesn't resort to more traditional tactics.

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Today's drug dealer. Photo via

Silk Road may have been shut down by federal authorities last fall, but a new study from a law professor and a professor of criminal science argues that the website may have actually reduced drug violence.

University of Lausanne criminologist David Decary-Hetu and University of Manchester law professor Judith Aldridge referred to Silk Road as a “paradigm-shifting criminal innovation” due to the physical location of users being hidden with anonymity software. Because of this, they argue that old-fashioned business skills and not intimidation through violence were the key to success on the site. Their paper is currently being submitted for review to an academic journal they declined to name.

“This new breed of drug dealer is… likely to be relatively free from the violence typically associated with traditional drug markets,” read the paper. “Whereas violence [in the traditional drug trade] was commonly used to gain market share, protect turfs and resolve conflicts, the virtual location and anonymity that the cryptomarket provides reduces or eliminates the need – or even the ability – to resort to violence. In the drugs cryptomarket era, having good customer service and writing skills…may be more important than muscles and face-to-face connections.”

The study itself also doesn’t list any statistical evidence to back up its theory. However, they used a custom web scrawler to search through feedback and review data of all the site’s vendor profiles, and found that many Silk Road users were likely dealers and not consumers. The top 20 percent of deals on the site went for more than $1,000 and brought in between 31 and 45 percent of a sellers’ total revenue. The study also said that substances which are considered to be less harmful, such as synthetic marijuana, generated far more revenue than substances such as heroin and crack cocaine.

Prior to his arrest last October, Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht said he wanted his site to give power back to small-time drug dealers and take it away from violent cartels. “Some, especially the cartels, are basically a de facto violent power hungry state, and surely would love nothing more than to take control of a national government,” he wrote on the site in 2012. “But your average joe pot dealer, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, that guy became my hero…It wasn’t long, maybe a year or two after this realization that the pieces started coming together for the Silk Road.”

Of course, Ulbricht has been accused by prosecutors of paying would-be assassins to kill six people, including a blackmailer and an employee he worried would snitch to authorities.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.