CRG 50/16-17: Darknet drug traders: a qualitative exploration of the career trajectories, activities and perceptions of risk and reward of online drug dealers

Report to the Criminology Research Advisory Council

A growing share of drug distribution takes place through cryptomarkets—illicit online drug markets which supply the lower levels of the drug trade. Though the economy at large is well understood and the motivations and demographics of buyers as well, the population of drug sellers has received less scrutiny. In this study we address this research gap through the largest qualitative study of cryptomarket vendors to date.

We find that sellers begin their careers in varying ways, some moving their business online, others moving into cryptomarket distribution from buying, reselling or supplying friends or from other cybercrimes. We further observe that economic and non-economic motivations frequently overlap, and that strategies for managing risk vary extensively. We conclude with a discussion of our findings from a policy perspective, focusing on the implications for policing drug markets and health policies.