In today’s bifurcated illicit drug trade, it’s increasingly common for transactions to occur anonymously, online—on the 0.01 percent of the deep web known as the dark web, which is inaccessible on most browsers.
For buyers and sellers with Tor, cryptocurrency and PGP, dark-web markets offer an intuitive, Amazon-esque user interface, with escrow and review features to keep everyone honest. Such markets are a logical first stop for newbies with technical know-how. But the added protection of the markets comes at an extra cost—one that many customers are happy to do without once they’ve established trust and a one-to-one connection with a seller.
In the fentanyl era, it remains easy and common to demonize drug sellers. But the one I interviewed—a 30-something, soft-spoken white man in the eastern United States, whose identifying details are omitted for obvious reasons—couldn’t be less like the bloodthirsty predator stereotype we hear about in elementary school drug prevention assemblies and mainstream media. Over the course of our conversation, I was struck by his meticulousness, insight and palpable concern for customer health and safety. Though he is unquestionably and unapologetically working illegally, his answers illustrate why he is ethically ok with his work.
Our interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
David Poses: How long have you been doing this and how did you get started?
A friend got into some low-level dealing when Silk Road was coming up [in the early 2010s]. I went along and grew it from there.
Do you sell drugs in person or only online?
Is this your only occupation, or do you do something else?
I have another (legitimate) business.
Great. What and where is it?
What kinds of drugs do you sell?
Heroin and a little coke; meth, occasionally.
What’s your most popular item?
Two-gram bags of heroin.
Do you add fentanyl or other synthetic analogues to your heroin?
Never. Most of my customers are trying to steer clear of fentanyl.
How do you know it’s not fentanyl or laced with fentanyl?
I run a few different kinds of tests on it [including methods “more sophisticated” than fentanyl test strips]. If the shit is cut, I let customers know.
Actual heroin and genuine pharmaceutical opioids seem to be increasingly hard to find. Is that your experience as well?
Right now, yeah. For one thing, synthetics are cheaper. COVID isn’t helping.
“If a test shows synthetics, I’ll make it clear to customers and, if I can, I’ll move it at a lower price.”
Do you work with more than one supplier?
I got a few contacts for dope and one for coke and meth. I got somebody who’s got a hand in everything—dope, coke, acid, ecstasy, pills, you name it—but it’s pretty inconsistent and the pills are all pressed. Plus, I end up paying more for the “one-stop shopping,” and that means so do you.
Do you have to specify “no fentanyl” when you order from a supplier?
But you still end up with fentanyl sometimes?
What happens then?
Well, you can’t return the shit, if that’s what you’re asking. If a test shows synthetics, I’ll make it clear to customers and, if I can, I’ll move it at a lower price.
How does it work when you buy drugs? Are you meeting guys like Felix Gallardo or Pablo Escobar in fancy hotel rooms?
Nothing like that. I’m not moving that level of product where guys like that would even know who I am.
Do you think any sellers are getting pure heroin (ie, heroin of any purity without synthetics) and cutting it with fentanyl or carfentanil? Or is everyone in the same boat as you?
Somebody is obviously doing that, but I think it’s happening higher up the totem pole. I don’t know that for sure. It’s just common sense. If you’re dealing with customers, you’d have to be pretty fucking stupid to be doing that—especially if you’re selling online, sending it in the mail.
What do you mean by that?
You send somebody something that powerful and they don’t know it is, you’re gonna kill somebody sooner or later. They open the pack and do what’s in it, and then they drop dead and they’re right next to the package.
Is that your biggest concern? Someone dies and the mailer is found?
No question. Not just because I don’t want anybody handing my packs to John Q. Law. I always tell my customers to do a test shot first and be careful, because I don’t want anybody dying.
“I don’t think people get ripped off as much online as they do on the street.”
Is buying online safer than on the street?
There’s added protection on both ends online because you’re not doing business face-to-face, but you still got risks. I don’t think people get ripped off as much online as they do on the street. But I hear stories all the time from people who fell for one of those “too good to be true” deals. They send money and get nothing.
Are they getting ripped off by actual sellers? Or is it the online equivalent of me on the street at two in the morning in the 1990s: desperate, no one I know is out, so I give my money to someone who says they have dope and I end up with nothing?
That. If a dealer did that, it’d be all over the forums in two seconds flat.
I find it fascinating that, in a lawless environment, the forums and markets, with their reviews and escrow systems, are able to do what can’t be done in real life.
It wouldn’t work otherwise.
Would you sell on the street if the internet didn’t exist?
No fucking way.
Walk me through an order.
On a market or direct?
Tell me about both. And what’s your ratio of direct versus online orders?
It’s almost all direct since Empire Market exit scammed [in August], and that’s better all around. I don’t need to drop any more percentages than I have to, and neither do my customers.
If it’s on a market, I see the order. If it’s direct, you send proof of payment (bitcoin and Monero) and say what you want on [several secure, anonymous communicating platforms]. No matter how it comes in, if it happens before 9 am, it ships that day.
Note: The subject further explained that the shipping process is no different than a legal business but safeguards make each step exponentially more complex. Everything from buying packing/shipping supplies and postage to actual shipping is “extremely fucking complicated for good reason.” He referred to instances of online drug businesses being “taken down by John Q Law” and, for reasons that may be obvious, didn’t want me to share what he learned from these episodes, or the “military-grade stealth” he employs to avoid detection. Orders are shipped five days a week, with expedited shipping available for an added fee. The subject has tracking info for all shipments. However, it is not given to customers, and he only tracks packages when a problem arises—even doing that is “complicated.”
“People are going to do drugs and that can be dangerous. I’m here to make it less dangerous.”
How would you describe the state of affairs in dark-web markets since Empire Market’s exit scam? Do you think there’ll be consolidation, or more splintering like the direction you seem to have taken?
I’ve been around the block long enough to see Empire’s exit scam coming a mile away, so I didn’t get my clock cleaned the way a lot of other people did. I don’t think there’ll ever not be markets because if you’re new to online, you’re gonna look for that until you establish trust [with a seller].
Which markets do you currently sell on?
Less than I used to but I’d rather not say.
How do you feel about the sex and violence known to be trafficked on certain markets?
I won’t do business anywhere that has any of that.
Is violence part of your job?
No, and I hope it stays that way.
Do you own a gun?
I’m not stupid.
Are people in your life aware of your profession?
How do they feel about it?
Do you worry?
What do you think?
What’s the closest you’ve come to getting caught?
Lets just say it involved a customer getting kicked out of a place after a pack shipped.
Do you use drugs?
I’ll have a drink every now and then but nothing crazy. I quit partying when I started doing this on a full-time basis.
Did you ever have a problem with drugs?
Why don’t you sell methadone or buprenorphine?
You can’t get any kind of quantity for it to make sense. Sometimes a customer will try to sell bottles or films but it’s not worth the hassle and, to tell you the truth, if they’re taking that stuff so they won’t do heroin, I don’t want to be a part of them fucking their shit up.
What about your other customers? What if your products fuck their shit up?
I try not to think of it that way.
How do you think of it?
People are going to do drugs and that can be dangerous. I’m here to make it less dangerous.
So, this is a public service. If someone uses drugs, they should buy them from a reputable person like you who isn’t going to rip them off or kill them.
What if a customer has to rip someone off to pay you for their drugs—does that bother you?
Honestly, it does but it’s really not my business.
I guess it could also be said that guys on Wall Street rob people all the time and when they buy cars and houses, Porsche dealers and real estate agents probably don’t lose sleep over it.
How do you feel about the War On Drugs?
Bad for you. Good for me.
Do you think the drug war will ever end?
There’s too much money in keeping drugs illegal. You have any idea how many people are on that payroll?
Do you give money to any pro-drug war organizations?
Is that a “no”?
Put it to you this way: I protect my interests.
How do you feel about advocacy organizations that are obviously trying to end the drug war and also doing great things for the harm reduction movement.
Look, I’m all for harm reduction. I’m just saying: If drugs were suddenly legal, guys like me would be out of business in two seconds flat.
Because drugs would be commoditized and corporations would take over?
That doesn’t seem to be entirely happening with weed.
Maybe not yet. It will.
Do you have an exit strategy—a goal or a plan for if the shit hits the fan?
What do you most want readers to know about you?
People forget that this is a business. I want my customers to be happy and I don’t want any problems. You don’t have to ask, When’s my pack coming? 200 times a day, but you should do a test shot. And please, for the love of God: Destroy. The. Pack. Before. You. Do. Anything. Else.