Did Silk Road make buying drugs safer?
That’s the new argument for the defence of Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the site that allowed people to buy and sell illicit goods over the internet with bitcoin.
Here’s the argument, from the New York Times:
Mr. Ulbricht’s lawyers contend in a filing on Friday that “in contrast to the government’s portrayal of the Silk Road website as a more dangerous version of a traditional drug marketplace,” the website “was in many respects the most responsible such marketplace in history.”
Silk Road operated on a hidden part of the Internet, made deals with the virtual currency Bitcoin and offered anonymity to buyers and sellers, the defence noted.
As a result, Silk Road was “a peaceable alternative to the often deadly violence so commonly associated with the global drug war, and street drug transactions, in particular,” wrote Meghan Ralston, a former “harm reduction manager” for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group seeking reform of marijuana laws and other drug policies, in a declaration included in the defence’s filing.
She added that transactions on Silk Road did not result in people’s having guns pulled on them at the moment of purchase, or require buyers to even visit dangerous neighbourhoods. Silk Road had begun to “revolutionise” drug selling, she wrote.
On the other side of the aisle, Federal prosecutors “intend to introduce evidence of six overdose deaths attributable to drugs bought from vendors on Silk Road” in arguing for a harsh sentence for Ulbricht.
So the argument here is that drugs kill people, so facilitating the sale of massive amounts of them is very bad from the point of view of society. BUT, the drug trade would have existed with or without Silk Road, and as an internet site that allowed people to buy and sell product from afar, which may have cut down on the violence that generally accompanies the drug trade.
Ulbricht’s sentencing is set for May 29 in Federal District Court in Manhattan.