Tomorrow Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht will be sentenced. He faces the possibility of between 20 years to life behind bars because drugs were bought and sold on his website. The prosecution is painting him as a major drug dealer and blaming him for the deaths of six people who overdosed (without acknowledging that our current drug policies lead to 35,000 accidental overdose deaths per year).
On the eve of his sentencing, it’s worth considering: what will we actually accomplish by putting this man away?
The fact is, the existence of Silk Road proved something we all know to be true: millions of people around the world want to use and buy drugs. As many have argued, including my former colleague Meghan Ralston and Phil Smith on Alternet, Silk Road’s online marketplace actually reduced the harms of drugs in several key ways.
Ulbricht’s defense recognized this and included these arguments in their memo to Katherine Forrest, the judge handing down the sentencing. If nothing else, a shorter sentence might help acknowledge the reality that no matter what your opinion about drug sales, Silk Road served as harm reduction for these marketplaces.
Tomorrow, the path of Ulbricht’s life will be determined. But his sentencing will have little to no impact on those millions of people who will still buy and use drugs. Other online drug marketplaces will arise and the violent, wasteful drug war will carry on unchecked.
Unless we end 40 years of failure, and consider the lessons from Silk Road, and think about a new approach to drug use and sales.
Stefanie Jones is the nightlife community engagement manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.