Anyone with internet access has to be aware of the life sentence handed down to Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, which served as a virtual black market for whatever drugs a person desired. Like most things in this country, the prevailing voices fall towards the fringe: Ross is either a Libertarian hero who has been unfairly persecuted or a brilliant sociopath who got exactly what he deserved.
The letters from relatives of people who died after purchasing drugs from Silk Road certainly produce empathy, but they shouldn’t produce any sympathy. Conversely, those who paint Ulbricht as an intelligent, well-intentioned guy elicit the same effect. To believe he had no idea what he was doing is naive at best, but to think he doesn’t deserve some time in prison is insanity. When it comes down it, he ordered hits on people and only expressed remorse once he was arrested. Meanwhile, he willfully enabled the sale of some of the ugliest drugs to ever be consumed by people.
Yet at the same time to call the people, who overdosed on drugs purchased from Silk Road, victims is another reach. The one thing Ulbricht was right about is the idea of letting people make their own decisions and in turn face the outcome, for good or ill. The irony of his statement is that he used it as part of his legal defense. Now everyone makes poor decisions and the majority of the time those poor decisions don’t directly or indirectly cause casualties. And while the Silk Road overdoses are certainly indirect, there is clear evidence that Ulbricht intended to directly cause harm to others. It is that piece of this case, which he should be punished for, but still life in prison is an extreme response. Let’s consider Darren Sharper, who drugged and raped women all over the country. He’s facing 9 years, and given the circumstances, the sentences should be the other way around.
That said, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I am not advocating for or defending Ross Ulbricht. He is not a person who deserves sympathy, but he also doesn’t deserve to spend his life in prison. What the Silk Road case truly highlights is how backwards and irrational our criminal justice system is. It also is another example that U.S. drug policy is beyond fucked up. If people were properly and honestly educated on drugs, rather than exposed to the blanket demonization of drugs (which equates weed to heroin) substances like heroin, crack, and meth would be used far less. If you doubt that statement, look at the Netherlands and other European countries, who have progressive drug policies and significantly less drug usage.
Aside from science-based and honest drug education, we need to restructure our legal system to reduce the amount of non-violent offenders we feed to the prison industry. Once people cross over from regular citizen to felon or prison inmate, their life is dramatically and negatively altered for the rest of their existence. That is not justice and that certainly isn’t fair, especially if the only direct victim of the crime is the person committing it. The emphasis of our legal system should be on violent crime and predatory actors like bankers who manipulate markets and prey on the impoverished to heroin dealers who cut their product with even more dangerous substances.
We need to decriminalize all drugs, legalize some, and spend the money used to enforce our current drug laws on targeting those who distribute the most disgusting and destructive substances such as heroin, crack, meth, etc. Addicts should not be treated the same in the eyes of the law as those who prey upon them, and the fact that in 2015 the U.S. still hasn’t made that distinction is insane. When you consider the decades of institutionalized corruption that the DEA has been involved in, it’s immorally hypocritical to continue along this path. We need reform, both culturally and on the legislative level, and we need it now. Ross Ulbricht is not a hero and those who willingly chose to take heroin or other deadly drugs are not victims, but neither of them deserved what they got and it is our culture and our legal system that deserves the brunt of the blame.