Europeans are increasingly seeking to source their dank buds from dark web dealers, according to a new report.
Much like their legal counterparts in Canada, dark web dealers noticed an increase in cannabis sales in the early months of the pandemic, according to a recent analysis from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Published in June in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the preliminary study explored the impact of COVID-19 on illicit dark web drug markets serving a mostly-European clientele. Most European countries still prohibit adult-use cannabis, and medical cannabis is often tightly controlled — rendering dark web weed a hotter commodity across the pond.
Sales on illicit markets such as Versus, Cannazon, and Agartha shot up from 11,036 in January to 14,289 in March — an increase of just under 29.5 per cent.
The analysis noted that while many sellers advertised business as usual despite the pandemic, others used posts and ads to create a sense of urgency by “using the virus to generate more sales.”
Teodora Groshkova, principal scientific analyst at the EMCDDA, speculates that the social distancing lockdowns that spread increasingly across European countries and the US as the virus multiplied likely played a major factor in the uptick of illicit dark web weed sales.
“It’s possible that buyers were trying to stock up for the weeks to come, or there’s just a larger group of cannabis users discovering online as a convenient distribution channel when social contact is limited and they have limited means to reach out to their usual dealer,” Groshkova told WIRED.
But the report’s authors admit that the situation is more complex.
While cannabis sales increased over February and March, the estimated value of cannabis sold on dark web markets experienced a dip, which the authors say can be “explained by a fall in the larger volume trades in February and March,” and attribute to a potential “decline in sales at the mid-level of the market.”
“This suggests that cannabis consumers were either stocking-up or moving to online marketplaces to mitigate potential supply problems,” reads the report, which the authors note has numerous limitations and caveats — including the fact that no data from April or May were included.
“A key limitation of this study is that some of the major markets could not be included at the time of drafting (April 2020), hence the findings are clearly not representative of the entire darknet market ecosystem. Notably, analysis of the data from Empire, a large market of importance for the EU had to be excluded for technical reasons. Another major market, Hydra, was not included as it primarily serves Russian-speaking countries,” the authors explain.
The EMCDDA has been closely monitoring how the pandemic has affected drug sellers, users, and markets over the past few months, releasing reports regarding the impact of COVID on patterns of drug use and drug harm, on drug markets across the EU, and on drug services and help-seeking in Europe.
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