As awareness about the coronavirus grew and the pandemic spread across of Europe, it wasn’t only toilet paper, pasta, and flour the inhabitants of the EU, and the UK, started to stockpile. While in legal markets cannabis was often considered an essential product, as fear for lockdowns grew, our European friends resorted to the Dark Web for their supply as even drug dealers went in lockdown.
According to a study of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) covering the first quarter of the year, large numbers of cannabis users found their supply online rather than relying on their trusted dealer. The study covered three of the most influential Darknet drugs markets: Agartha, Cannazon, and Versus and noted an increase in online ordering of around 30% between January 2020 and March 2020, when most European nations went in lockdown. In the last month of the quarter 14,289 marijuana sales were registered, compared to only 11,036 in January.
According to the study’s lead analyst, Teodora Groshkova, it is difficult to determine the main reasons for the increase in Darknet purchases. Although some interesting observations were made.
"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"
— T. Groshkova, EMCDDA scientific analyst
The most interesting observation made during the study was that despite an increase in actual sales, the total cost of sales made dropped. This was because the volume of wholesale purchases was lower than before, which was most likely caused by lower dealer activity and interrupted supply lines due to the lockdown. While there have been creative dealers who posed as front-liners or even health workers, generally it is assumed that dealers also followed social distancing and stay home rules where applicable. Additionally, due to lower traffic everywhere, law enforcement agencies were often in a stronger position to monitor and intercept trafficking operations.
According to the study (PDF) on the largest monitored market, Cannazon, total purchases of marijuana in March were only $1.7 million, compared to $2.1 million in January. The platform, which allowed the analysts to monitor purchase details, saw a significant drop in kilo sales, from 5,70w in January to only 3,652 in March. Yet over the same period an increase of almost 50% in number 10 gram sales was registered.
Groshkova thinks that the drop in wholesale sales is related to the pandemic and its lockdowns.
"When the offline opportunities for resale is limited, these people are not so interested to get hold of this type of larger amount. They see that they’re going to have difficulty shifting these products."
It will be interesting to see whether the increase in online marijuana sales continues in this quarter, as well as the next quarters as countries are slowly easing up their lockdowns. Hopefully the EMCDDA will continue to monitor the Darknet markets and report their findings regularly. While the study is mostly an observation of a limited market snapshot, the findings could also lead to renewed momentum for the legalization of marijuana as many countries have entered a recession due to the pandemic.
For anyone interested, I recommend to read the EMCDDA’s findings. Contrarily to many studies, the report isn’t 357 gazillion pages long and an easy read.
How has the coronavirus affected your supply? Did your usual dealer continue operations, have consistent supply, or did you also resort to the dark web?
The EMCDDA obtained its data by scraping the three marketplaces. Only Cannazon publicly displays prices, which lowered the potential of a more substantial market analysis.