Prosecuting Dark Net Drug Marketplace Operators Under the Federal Crack House Statute
By Thomas J. Nugent
Over 70,000 Americans died as the result of a drug overdose in 2017, a record year following a record year. Amidst this crisis, the popularity of drug marketplaces on what has been called the “dark net” has exploded. Illicit substances are sold freely on such marketplaces, and the anonymity these marketplaces provide has proved troublesome for law enforcement. Law enforcement has responded by taking down several of these marketplaces and prosecuting their creators, such as Ross Ulbricht of the former Silk Road. Prosecutors have typically leveled conspiracy charges against the operators of these marketplaces—in Ulbricht’s case, alleging a single drug conspiracy comprising Ulbricht and the thousands of vendors on the Silk Road. This Note argues that the conspiracy to distribute narcotics charge is a poor conceptual fit for the behavior of operators of typical dark net drug marketplaces, and that the federal “crack house” statute provides a better charge. Though charging these operators under the crack house statute would be a novel approach, justice is best served when the crime accurately describes the behavior, as the crack house statute does in proscribing what dark net drug marketplace operators like Ulbricht do.