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World Wide Weed

Nov 21, 2005

 

3 Million people use cannabis every year in the United Kingdom alone. Any businessman will tell you that's one hell of a healthy market. Unfortunately for users, the little matter of its illegality in almost all of the world's nations means that hashish and marijuana is still relatively difficult to get hold of. Today's globally-mobile culture has forced a lot of us to spend less time in the same place, so finding a reliable supplier is a conundrum which we have all faced at one time or another. Venture into the streets, and you're liable to be sold a bag of kitchen herbs or a chunk of wood, or worse still, get robbed outright or even arrested. Ask around too much and you might attract the wrong type of attention.

But the enormous advances in technology over the last few years have not gone unnoticed by the stoners who seek a solution to these problems. Growers and suppliers have been turning to the world's biggest high-street, the internet, to peddle their wares, and the consumers have followed. Though hard to find, mail-order cannabis or "E-Weed" websites have been doing a roaring trade for some years, and while some have been shut down by police struggling to keep up with encryption technology and the vastness of the web, more and more dealers are finding the internet a safer and more lucrative way of doing business.

The police crackdown on internet weed dealers has been felt hardest in the United Kingdom, where online dealers Pepe and BudMonkey were closed down in late 2003 and early 2004 after a major operation by the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit. Pepe and BudMonkey had been relatively brazen in their approach: though not advertised on search engines or open forums, word of their sites spread quickly among the online cannabis community in Britain. Their sites openly declared their products, a variey of strains of high grade herbal cannabis and hash, with photographs to illustrate the quality. Although both sites introduced password protection and a strict members-only policy after a few months of open operation, the damage had been done. The vacuum-packed, Amsterdam-beating packages had been so popular that keeping the business secret had quickly become impossible, particularly after a national newspaper article in which an Amsterdam-based dealer, Hermes The Hash Trader, criticised the openness of the UK sites.  Payments had been made by online payment systems such as PayPal and NoChex and the paper trail clearly showed the scale of the online operations.

In the wake of these "Independent" e-weed sellers, the market was left relatively open. An invitation-only forum, NoSoap, which had been instrumental in spreading the word about BudMonkey and Pepe, stepped into the breach. The success of the two pioneers had already attracted a raft of UK dealers who wanted a piece of the action, but didn't want the unwanted attention a personal online store would attract. The NoSoap administrators responded by opening their "Online Cannabis Marketplace"; a forum which allocated proven reliable dealers their own threads to advertise strains and used the forum's private messaging system to provide payment details to potential customers. The separation between site admin and the sellers meant strict regulation of the service of the dealers; too many complaints and a seller would be removed from the forums. NoSoap avoided the police well for some time, with forum members now cagey about discussing site details with others. However, when a forum member separated from her husband and he threatned to inform on her and her online suppliers, the site admin took no chances. Despite promises of a return, the NoSoap marketplace now looks to be gone for good. Interestingly, its "front", an identical forum without the marketplace section intended to be linked to from the real address when site admin feared investigation, is still a lively discussion forum on marijuana.

Another site without the strict seller-vetting procedures of NoSoap, and therefore a lot more "scammers" on its "classifieds" page continued to operate without police interference for some months after the NoSoap closure, but complaints from users and growing references to its existence on open web forums have recently forced it to shut down the advertisers pages. The rest of the site is still a popular resource for cannabis users.

The activities of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit have, in fact, more or less driven e-weed out of the UK. A number of small-time online dealers still operate on a much reduced scale, often only using an encrypted e-mail account, passed around by word of mouth, as their outlet, or only selling to medical users with a doctor's certificate. But the major online suppliers are now international businesses, based in countries with more favourable views to Cannabis policing. The long arm of the DEA means that many of these will not ship the the United States, but an enterprising surfer can find a number of suppliers who will ship to the UK with no fears of reprisals. While customs officers do regularly search packages from known drug-producing countries such as Holland, many slip through the net, especially if sent from less obvious points of origin. The new breed of e-weed companies are ethical organizations, often non-profit, with proceeds from sales going to Medical Marijuana charities. Prices are low, quality is nearly always way above UK street-dealer standards, and the paper chain is avoided thanks to the advance of E-Gold, an untraceable "E-Currency Exchange" system which makes payment more secure.

The unstoppable rise of E-Weed is evidence of the massive market for Cannabis among people who are either unable to locate suppliers or are uncomfortable with the criminal element so intrinsically linked with street dealers. The modern Cannabis user is becoming more law-abiding, upstanding, employed and intelligent. The days of fiddling with folded notes on street corners or visiting dingy flats to indulge one's secret vice are rapidly going. Cannabis users want the convenience, reliability and service that the E-Weed companies provide, which is why they will continue to thrive.


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almost twelve years ago

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Ken
almost twelve years ago

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