The illicit drug trade has embraced the digital age, with many flourishing online markets for drugs found on the “deep web” offering postage delivery to tech savvy users.
However, purchasing illicit drugs online is far from risk-free and carries the potential for serious criminal charges.
Here’s what you should know.
The Online Market For Illicit Drugs
Online drug sales can occur via a variety of different platforms, usually though the aid of anonymising browsing software (such as a Tor browser) which accesses the deep or “dark” web, inaccessible via the “surface” web.
Online illicit drug markets, such as the (now defunct) Silk Road connect dealers and users through encrypted networks designed to disguise the identity of users, allowing for anonymous transactions via cryptocurrency.
Such markets are sometimes given the term “cryptomarkets” or “darknets”.
The variety of illicit drugs listed on these online markets include cannabis, MDMA, cocaine, methamphetamine and psychedelics such as LSD.
Although the consumer market for online drug sales is small, it’s on the rise.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre noted that between 2014 and 2020 the number of drug listings (the total number of substances advertised for sale across the analysed markets) increased from 11,308 to 41,880 across various markets.
Around 7% of party drug users in Australia obtain their drugs via online marketplaces accessed on the deep web.
Here is the law on drug possession and supply in NSW.
Law Enforcement of Online Purchases
Many people purchase illicit drugs online because they believe it is an easy way to evade law enforcement, however that is not necessarily the case.
In their submission to the (since lapsed) Inquiry into the impact of illicit drugs traded online, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission noted a number of tactics used by law enforcement to deal with the online trade including:
- National mail screenings to detect and disrupt the flow of illicit drugs through the Australian postal service;
- Targeting online darknet vendors;
- Investigating the use of cryptocurrency in darknet markets with the aim of identifying and disrupting purchases and supply of illicit drugs from international suppliers; and
- Identification of the international origins and supply chains which facilitated supply of drugs that have been detected at the border or domestically.
The Department of Home Affairs also made a submission indicating that Federal law enforcement are making greater use of powers gained via the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Act 2021 (Cth) to decrypt and re-identify communications which occur though seemingly anonymous networks.
Drug Importation Offences
Purchasing illicit drugs via online cryptomarkets could potentially result in a charge and prosecution under Federal drug importation offences.
A number of serious criminal offences are outlined under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) for the importation of a “border controlled drug” including most illicit drugs.
Offences are divided on the basis of the quantity of the drug imported, including:
- Importing or exporting a border controlled drug (s 307.3) which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
- Importing or exporting marketable quantities of a border controlled drug (s 307.2) which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.
- Importing or exporting commercial quantities of a border controlled drug (s 307.1) which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Consumers purchasing illicit drugs online are likely to be importing drugs at a “marketable quantity” or less.
The following outlines the marketable quantities of common illicit drugs:
- For cannabis, more than 25 kilograms but less than 100 kilograms.
- For ecstasy, more than half a gram but less than 500 grams.
- For cocaine, more than 2 grams but less than 2 kilograms.
- For amphetamines (including methamphetamine), more than 2 grams but less than 750 grams.
- For heroin, more than 2 grams but less than 1.5 kilograms.
Importing less than the marketable quantity could result in a charge of importing a border controlled drug under s 307.3. Importing more than the marketable quantity could result in a character of importing a commercial quantity under s 307.1.
By Jarryd Bartle.