Four Years Later: Analyzing Online Black Markets Involved in Cannabis Drug Dealing in the United States


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The cannabis market in the United States is currently going through turbulences as the cannabis depenalization and legalization movement is spreading across more and more states. The legal changes have raised many questions, including some regarding their impact on the cannabis black market. One possible outcome that will be of interest to this study is the shifting of the cannabis dealing activities in the United States from offline to online black markets. Online black markets that operate on the dark net offer many benefits to drug users who can select from a wide array of dealers that have public quality and reliability scores based on past feedback from other drug users. Drug dealers also benefit from online black markets as they can source their stock and/or sell drugs relatively anonymously to a wide pool of customers, both domestic and international.

This study will first describe the size and scope of the cannabis market in the United States. To do so, we will evaluate the number of American drug dealers active on online black markets, their transactions and the total revenues they generated. This study will then analyze more closely the weights associate to these transactions to determine which level of the cannabis black market is now taking advantage of online sales. Finally, this study will seek to identify dealers that operate from states where cannabis is now depenalized or legalized and analyze their online operations. This will provide an indication as to whether drug dealers are turning to online sales to find customers who do not have an easy, low risk and/or cheap access to cannabis. It will also help us understand whether drug dealers are taking advantage of the production facilities in states where cannabis can be legally grown to supply domestic and foreign markets where cannabis is still penalized.

Online black markets – also known as cryptomarkets – have grown at a rapid pace since their inception four years ago in 2011. While unlikely to totally replace offline drug markets, the security and the conviviality of their user experience makes them an appealing alternative that is likely to continue to grow in size over the coming years. As such, cryptomarkets could become valuable data sources on the activities of participants involved in the illicit drug trade.

This content has been updated on 8 August 2016 at 17 h 46 min.