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Wellington’s very own Silk Road: an Unexpected Thriving Community

Investigated by KP (she/her)

In my first year of University, I remember sitting in the dining hall talking to some newly found friends in between dry mouthfuls of Sunday dinner. An idea sparked at the other end of the table, “Should we try and score some weed tonight?”. Nods and murmurs of agreement led us to ponder on the next step of our fresher excursions. Our contact list of potential drug dealers was practically blank, and the plan started to fizzle out. 

My friend “Barry” said “What about the servers?”. Seeing the group confused, he turned his phone around to the group. He is on the encrypted messaging app Discord, more popularly used for online gaming forums and chatting, but instead of gaming channels the left side of his screen was lined with subtitles such as “Powders, Flowers, Trips and Pharmies”.

It was like online shopping. But for drugs. Clicking into the “Flowers” chat he scrolled through dozens of pictures of oddly named strains of weed. Within minutes he sent us all invitations to the ironically named server, ‘Vic Deals’. 

Later that night tucked into bed, I pulled my phone out to investigate the server.  Curiosity takes over. I dive into every tab, investigating the sheer quantity and variety of drugs that fill my screen. As I do my mother’s warnings about drug use become faint and distant as I click on the next tab. What I found next was both surprising and comforting: the tab was labelled ‘Vouches’.

This sub-chat had hundreds of testimonials from buyers and sellers, warnings against under weighers, weak drugs and sketchy sellers. The admin, who we will call  ‘Sass’, oversaw the group approving and verifying new members and allocating badges to help buyers distinguish trusted sellers.  Scrolling up I noticed in this chat he posted a link to a sub-server named ‘Good Trips’. The link led me to a harm prevention forum within ‘Vic Deals’, where ‘Sassy’ posted regularly about warnings of synthetic and laced drugs currently circulating. 

In the golden age of Discord servers, ‘Vic Deals’ was over two thousand members strong, and a tight-knit community. The servers were constantly adapting to avoid police and app admins' detection. To further avoid text detection dealers used images with text to market their product, after that it really did feel like online shopping. Never before were you able to source such a variety of drugs so easily. The option of being able to compare different price points, strains and vouches made drugs feel incredibly less daunting and, ironically, less illegal. 

It is important to note the cultural influences that inspired the easy-to-use, Drugs-to-go service. This mode of goods transaction and vouches is reminiscent of the late dark web site Silk Road, an online black market where buyers and sellers engaged in anonymous illegal trade. Trades involved cryptocurrency, making it even harder to trace, Vic Deal’s ‘Vouch’ forum has roots back to Silk Road’s very own feedback system used to weed out fraudulent sellers. 

In my investigation, I was able to meet with someone I will refer to as ‘the Moderator’, previously involved in the Wellington drug server community . They are also a former admin of one of the since deleted Discord servers.

After considering the potential awkwardness of meeting in a public café, the Moderator and I agreed to have the interview at my student flat. I don’t know quite what I was expecting them to look like, but something along the lines of shady, hooded and potentially patched may have sprung to mind. But the knock on the door was quiet and respectful and the figure through the stained glass was leaner than I had pictured. I opened the door and was met by a  tall shaggy haired boy, no older than me. He had a kind smile and a warm “Hey!”. My ‘scary drug dealer interview’ anxieties melted away. Leading him through my uni flat, I was suddenly hyperconscious of the dozens of street signs that line our hallway and the stacks of dishes that hide the kitchen bench as we take a seat in the living room. 

I  assured the Moderator that he would be able to retain his anonymity in this article. As I did, I watched his shoulders relax and his posture slump slightly, as if the big time drug server admin was just as nervous about this encounter as I was. 

The Moderator remembers a time where there was nothing but bath salts and synthetic cannabis being distributed in Wellington. He explained he was “sick of seeing people getting ripped off”, recalling the time he himself bought over two pounds of PGR-laced weed. PGR stands for Plant Growth Hormone: the presence of this growth hormone produces small dense flowers and if smoked can cause headaches, nausea, and vomiting, as well having cancerous effects. Its orange appearance and inflamed pistons are easy to spot, but usually passed off as a strain called “Orange Ruffie”. This, alongside the rise of dangerous cathinones, caused an increase in distrust within the community. Due to the abundance of synthetic and harmful drugs, dealers like the Moderator went to extra lengths to market their products as safe. 

With nearly half the New Zealand population (49.0%) having used recreational drugs at some point in their lives, it’s not hard to come to terms with the idea that just anyone could be a drug user. The Moderator said that he “couldn’t believe the range of different people who were involved in the servers”. 

“Welly’s new drug dealing community is educated and evolving” 

The Moderator agrees—helped along by new modes of buying and selling drugs that don’t involve a dodgy alleyway. The new Wellington drug dealers care more about what they are putting out in the community and care about the people they sell to. To a degree. 

The Moderator was among the first sellers to start including testing samples in their pictures. This practice became increasingly more common between servers, with sellers going the extra mile and including dates, phone timers and their usernames tagged on the test to prove the purity and potency of their product. This quickly became the bare minimum for sellers on the servers, restoring a sense of trust between buyer and seller. 

A friend of mine, ‘Laney’, spoke to me about her experiences of being ripped off when buying MDMA at the Northern Bass Festival. She recalled how standing in a big yellow tent that had ‘KNOW YOUR STUFF’ written on it kind of felt like wearing a flashing neon sign saying, “I DO DRUGS”.

After having a pretty average night of the festival, ‘Laney’, who had scored 2 grams of MDMA from a friend, decided she should test it.  Thinking it was just a bit weak or she hadn’t taken enough, she started to doubt her dealer who  assured her that it was “good stuff”. While amongst other recreational drug takers she remembered waiting until her number was called, then following a young girl with a clipboard into a more private area of the tent. The worker sat her and her friend down and paused to read the contents of the clipboard. 

The young girl looked up and said “What substance were you under the impression you brought in today?”. Sharing a quick glance they both responded “MDMA”. She promptly follows that up with “Well what you have brought in today is zero percent MDMA and 100% Eutylone”. She remembers thinking, “What the hell is that?”. 

In the last couple of years, ‘Laney’ had stumbled across her MDMA being cut with other cathinones such as bath salts, BK-MDMA or just straight-up gelatine, but had never been completely ripped off with a substance that she could barely remember the name of. She was handed a small booklet that had a bold sad face on it with big block letters that read “So you got Eutylone”. As she recounted the story, a blush crept up her cheeks. She described how they left the place feeling humiliated and embarrassed, with an overwhelming amount of knowledge about the potential risks of the white substance they had spent their holiday money on.

It's funny how one day you realise that your parents were once young too, and they probably experimented with drugs as well. My realisation came on my biannual Facetime call with my Dad and he asked if I was going to be doing MDMA at the festival I was going to next week. After spouting a few quick tips I realised he was no stranger to the world of narcotics. Turning instantly from a father figure into a fun uncle role, he retold stories of pure pressed pills that would put the average MDMA user into a coma.

Gone was the presence of cathinone, but not the presence of capitalisation. Dad told me about a ‘pressie’ manufacturer in Auckland who would pump out thousands of pure MDMA pills a year. This guy would import multiple dye colours, quickly to be associated with his reputation of high-quality pills. My dad fondly mentioned his favourite, dubbed “White Doves”.  Although this man could be viewed as a saviour for not diluting his drugs with fillers, he was ultimately driven by profit like any other businessman.

After distributing his entire supply of a pill, he would then sell the imported coloured dye for someone else to produce their own pressed pills, with half the potency. Within the drug community there are typically very few loyalties, but the rise of the internet and the digitization of our daily processes means there is pressure for dealers to have to gain trust in order to retain customers, and retain a reputation. 

‘Vic Deals’ in all its glory did not make it past 2020, police and app moderators shutting down multiple servers in late 2020, much like its inspiration Silk Road. This still did not stop dealers from using the internet to sell drugs, with apps such as Key Base and Wickr all used by Wellingtonians to avoid police detection. Each server would only last a few months before being shut down and all members banned from the app. The introduction of the Wellington drug servers provided users with options and security when purchasing drugs, aided by vigilant moderators who responded to the pressing epidemic of cathinones and synthetics that cause harm and distrust between buyers and sellers. While ‘Vic Deals’ is gone and any other servers have long since died out, I still hope it has opened up a conversation about harm prevention in the Wellington drug community. 


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