High off the moral ground

High off the moral ground

Purchasing illicit substances off the internet is risky business at the best of times. An unnamed writer breaks down the process - ultimately begging the question as to why it should be such a mystery in the first place.

The art of buying drugs face to face during these times of prohibition is just that: an art. It’s a subtle dance between vendor and vendee, who both know that their business is illegal but must trust the other (while at the same time distrust them). Amongst professional drug merchants and their clientele there exists a fragile rapport based upon a mutual suspicion vital to one another’s survival. Compared to this delicate intrigue, buying drugs on the Internet is a fucking piss take.

But first, I would like to take a moment to address something that I am guilty of myself: a gut reaction to the word “drugs.” The word drugs comes with a host of cultural baggage. It implies illegality, danger, temptation. Rock Star stuff. Hip Hop stuff. Trainspotting stuff. Drugs are scary. They are scary because you and I, dear reader, have grown up in a period of scaremongering with endless after school specials made by two generations who have only had alcohol to sustain them – a drug which they imbibe with greater gusto than any of us wayward youth. This is, in a roundabout way, an argument for legalisation and I don’t want people getting hung up on the drugs part.

But first back to buying drugs off the Internet. It works, as I’m sure many of you are aware, much like any other legitimate online transaction seen every day on Trade Me, eBay, Amazon and top-shelf porn sites. However, due to its nature, it takes place at an online level deeper than “the Internet” – a level which is colloquially and imaginatively known as “the Deepnet.” The Internet has been likened to the ocean and search engines to a net. You might drag your net across the surface of the ocean and collect all manner of flotsam and jetsam from a Google search, but beneath the surface lurks untapped depths of data, information and high-powered LSD. It is this bit here that is the Deepnet.

Let us take a hypothetical drug purchaser looking to get messy with their friends in the privacy of their own home. First they’ll want to download Tor, originally funded by the U.S. Naval Research Authority. This is a free bit of software which allows them to access hidden websites whilst, most importantly, remaining hidden themselves when used in conjunction with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and/or a proxy server (those things you use to watch naughty videos on the Uni Internet). Just like buying something off Trade Me, they’ll then navigate themselves to a virtual market place, like thesilkroad2.0, where they will search for the products they desire and pay for them using the crypto currency called Bitcoin.

Suppose then our bright-eyed shopper wishes to purchase some MDMA and, being the discerning type, they don’t want the limp-wristed, stepped on, cut up variety that usually manages to wend its way down to Dunedin Otepōti. They would search for it in the search bar or alternatively find the subcategory under the Drugs tab on the side bar. Ibuprofen, helpfully marked Ecstasy, lies just above Dissociatives and just below Opioids in the Drugs tab. As a brief aside, Opioids are psychoactive substances like morphine whilst Dissociatives are things like ketamine – fucking horse tranquilisers, man. Anyway, they would then find a seller and they would purchase X amount of MDMA from them at a reasonable price. Again, much like Trade Me, they would be best to choose a seller with a large amount of positive feedback of whom they’d be able to ask questions and receive information on the product. This is something that is not always possible to do when buying drugs in person unless purchasing in bulk. It may even be considered something of a faux pas, as if you were questioning the drug dealer’s drug dealing credentials. Another added benefit of virtual market places is user feedback – this is because you can find out who’s got the good product, who is a rip off and who is known for their professionalism and successful deliveries.

A few days later their drug of choice, cunningly disguised, would arrive at its designated address for a fake person, hand delivered by the wonderful men and women of the New Zealand Postal Service. This is perhaps the most tenuous part of the whole operation, as having paid their money, the purchaser relies upon the honesty and skill of the seller and a little bit of luck to bring the contraband safely past the gimlet eye of Customs New Zealand. I say honesty of the seller because there is essentially nothing to prevent them from taking our hapless purchaser’s money with a cheery “the cheque’s in the mail,” never to be heard from again. There is, however, a mechanism much like other online markets by which complaints can be made as well as the user rating and review system so that repeated undelivered or subpar goods will result in poor ratings and thus fewer or no sales as well as ostracisation by the community. For added security our friend has also purchased an easy to use test kit or, alternatively, has enjoyed the fine tutelage of the University of Otago’s chemistry or pharmacology departments, thus they are able to test their purchase for purity. In my experience the feedback of other users has proved to be accurate and reliable on every occasion, which is not something I can say of drugs, particularly pressed pills and tabs, purchased in real life.

So there we have it, our intrepid Internet explorer and their friends now have at least one and probably several good nights of rolling on MDMA to enjoy – oh how they’ll laugh and dance with one another, tell each other their hopes and dreams, confess their love, hear music as if for the first time, feel a sense of euphoric bliss and generally grow together as friends and lovers. This shit should be illegal.
The reason such a marketplace even exists is because of the policy of prohibition enforced by New Zealand; a policy that I feel is morally bankrupt. Many arguments for the legalisation of drugs begin from a practical, economic and scientific standpoint. They essentially argue that prohibition creates more crime and criminality than it prevents, that it costs more in policing and lost taxation than it saves and that, scientifically, many of the drugs prohibited are demonstrably less harmful than my own beloved alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. All sound criticisms but that is not where I shall begin, I shall begin rather from the simple belief that it is no-one’s business what I put in my body provided I cause no harm to others. This is not by any means a radical notion – it is inherent in the concept of freedom of consciousness (also known as freedom of thought). A concept that is found, among other places, in section 13 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

We are born into this world with only two things: our body and our mind. Although the distinction is an illusionary one it serves its purpose. Society, through societal pressures and the rule of law, does a pretty good job of restricting our bodies already. “Sir, you’ll have to leave! Sir, put your clothes back on!” they clamour. Our minds, however, cannot, must not, ever be shackled in the same way our bodies may be. To allow that would be the grossest form of servitude, the most disgusting kind of supplication. This is not to say that you must get high. It is, in fact, the opposite. I merely assert that our conscious- ness is wholly our own and we have the right to change or not change that state of consciousness at will.

I saw a piece of graffiti one time in Newtown, Wellington, which had the typical stoner motif of a marijuana leaf and the phrase “smoke weed everyday,” but under this the same author had written “or don’t.” This sums up my mentality quite succinctly: provided you harm no one but yourself you should be free to do as you please and, frankly, if all you’ve ever done to break the law is driven a few km over the speed limit you’ve already done more to endanger someone’s life than I have getting illegally stoned at home. Issues with drugs can and do arise when harm is caused to others because not all drugs are equal; some by their nature make people more prone to violence or risk-taking behaviour. However, our current system of prohibition appears to have it all backwards. When have you heard this news report: “a man high on ecstasy filled with a sense of euphoria and kinship with humankind assaulted and killed a man in a Dunedin bar on Saturday night”? Never. Instead, we hear of Dunedin Police recently launching their “Just One Punch” campaign to highlight the link between alcohol and assault.

This is where the scientific critique of prohibition comes in. It argues that we need to take a scientific approach to drug use and its harms and benefits instead of the current knee jerk prohibitive reaction born out of Reagan era policies that have resulted only in a US$300 billion black market and an even greater cost in human misery. It is not always possible, however, to take the scientific approach when speaking truth to power.

Professor David Nutt, chairman of the British government’s advisory committee on the misuse of drugs, was sacked in 2009 after providing evidence in a paper for his claim that LSD, Cannabis and Ecstasy are less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. He was sacked for speaking the truth and providing evidence to support it. In 2009. In a democratic nation. This illustrates the perverse lengths to which people will go to maintain the status quo, and for what? To not look foolish? To escape having to say “we were wrong” or “we succumbed to pressure from vested interests?” Professor Nutt also once infamously said that Ecstasy was no worse than horse riding (he called it Equasy), which is responsible for around 10 deaths and more than 100 road accidents a year in the UK. This was an attempt to illustrate that drug harms can be equal or less than other harms that we would never think to criminalise in a free society. It is interesting that although over 250 people have died on Mount Everest we have never once blamed the mountain or used this as evidence that Everest is bad and people should be restricted from using it; we say they knew the risks they took them and paid the price. Yet when someone dies using a drug we somehow remove them as an autonomous actor and ban and blame the drug when often times both the mountain climber and the drug user are seeking a similar experience.

I can only imagine the sense of meaning and purpose one might get as they stand atop Everest. To look around as the highest human being in the world must give one a great sense of perspective and feeling of transcendence. I cannot summit Everest, I do not have the skills, the funds nor, frankly, the inclination, but I took LSD and watched a New Zealand harrier hunt for its dinner metres from my face and almost wept at the sight. I felt a sense of kinship with this bird and every other living thing. The sense of “oneness” that a good LSD trip will give you actually happens. This has carried on like a hangover that will last the rest of my life – colouring the interactions I have and the way I treat people.

The use of LSD for terminal patients to help them comprehend and come to terms with their impending death has been documented and shown to be immensely therapeutic. The use of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, has the potential to help treat people with severe depression, but due to its illegal nature scientist find it almost impossible to study and develop its potential (I am trying to ignore the bizarreness of declaring illegal a fungus, which grows naturally in and around our own fair southern city). The use of medical marijuana is alive and well in several US states. Colorado and Washington have fully legalised it and, surprisingly, the sky has not fallen upon their heads. Prohibition harms us in a therapeutic way by impeding our access to medicine as well as our understanding and treatment of addiction. Therefore, prohibition from a scientific perspective is an untenable position.

Lastly there is the socio-economic argument against prohibition. Almost on cue, the London School of Economics on 7 May published an academic report called “Ending the Drug Wars.” In it they point to violence in Afghanistan, Latin America and other regions as evidence of the need for a new approach as well as the huge and mounting costs of enforcing prohibition. They write: “It is time to end the ‘war on drugs’ and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies undered [sic] by rigorous economic analysis.” They go on to say “the pursuit of a militarised and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.” Part of this enormous collateral damage is that American prisons, as well as those in New Zealand, are now heaving with non-violent offenders sent there for the crime of getting high or being entrepreneurs. In her book The New Jim Crow (a reference to the laws that disenfranchised and segregated black Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries), Michelle Alexander makes a compelling case that drug laws are enforced along racial lines in a way to continue the disenfranchisement of black Americans and the process of mass incarceration in the US – a country with five per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. Prohibition has therefore become a powerful tool to infringe people’s rights and liberties in the Land of the Free.

The “cost to society” is also often touted as a reason for prohibition; this, however, is disingenuous. In 2013 police on the West Coast busted a cannabis crop with an inflated street value of three million dollars and stated that the total haul was worth four million dollars due to the societal costs of crime and enforcement. One million dollars in crime and enforcement! Who made it a crime? Who enforces it? The police used a helicopter and thousands of personnel hours to find some plants, which have never caused even one direct death. How many tax dollars does it cost to fly a helicopter all over the West Coast looking for foliage amongst other foliage? But despite all this, despite the bloated costs of enforcing prohibition and its crippling of scientific and medical potential I want an end to prohibition and an empirical harm based analysis of drug legalisation for selfish reasons. I want it because I want to get high, to change my consciousness as and when I feel like it. I don’t need to demand this right or take it back because I’ve always had it; I was born with it and so were you.
This article first appeared in Issue 13, 2014.
Posted 2:07pm Sunday 25th May 2014 by Anonymous.