Mapping the terrain of engagement with darknet drug cryptomarkets in New Zealand

Ms Lucy Moss-Mason1
1Victoria University Of Wellington, , New Zealand

There has been significant media attention dedicated to cryptomarkets such as Silk Road over the past seven years, providing academics with a unique opportunity to witness the lengths some individuals go to access drugs under regimes of prohibition. The darknet refers to an area of the internet that cannot be accessed without specialised anonymising technologies such as Tor. The relative anonymity afforded by the darknet has led to it being utilised by individuals who wish to engage in, and discuss, illegal and stigmatised activities. The darknet is home to a community of established cryptomarkets which facilitate the trade of goods and services, including illicit drugs. This alternative to conventional in-person drug supply arrangements is of particular significance in situations where individuals are reluctant or unable to purchase drugs through conventional markets, either as a result of their social positioning or geographical location. There has been emergent academic discussion about darknet cryptomarkets such as Silk Road. However, no prior New Zealand-specific research appears to have been undertaken. A series of qualitative, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with New Zealanders who had ordered drugs over the darknet, and this was followed by a thematic analysis of the interview content. The research that is presented focuses on the experiences of New Zealand consumers and dealers who have purchased illicit drugs through the darknet. It is argued that New Zealand occupies a noteworthy position in the cryptomarket ecosystem, as New Zealand’s conventional drug market is constrained by its small population and geographical isolation. This has increased the appeal of cryptomarket drug purchases for some New Zealanders, and interview participants refer to the geographical isolation of New Zealand and the constraints of its conventional drug market as influential in their engagement with cryptomarkets.



Lucy is a criminology student from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Her broad research interests are centred on drug policy and the implications of prohibitionist rhetoric, with a specific interest in the connection between cultures of drug use and their intersections with identities and digital technologies. She is currently completing a Masters thesis focusing on New Zealanders’ interactions with drug cryptomarkets.


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