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Craigslist becomes a place for pot peddlers
Seattle Times staff reporter
The classified-advertising Web site craigslist has become popular in recent years with young, tech-savvy city dwellers seeking apartments, jobs and for-sale items.
But it's also being used as an Information Age black market for some Seattle-area marijuana dealers.
"I'm not too concerned about getting caught," said Eric, a Bellevue man in his early 30s who peddles pot online through craigslist.
Local and federal law enforcement officials said they're aware dealers like Eric are turning to craigslist and other Web sites to sell pot, but the amounts sold are generally so small they're not very concerned.
Eric, who spoke on the condition that his last name not be used, says he doesn't make much of a profit — if any — but sells enough marijuana so he can smoke for free. He sells small amounts — usually an eighth of an ounce, which brings in $30 to $40. Most clients are friends or friends of friends, Eric said.
But as some customers have moved away or no longer want to light up, he's found replacement demand online.
Craigslist prohibits illegal activity, but the Web site is mostly self-policed, according to a spokeswoman for the site.
Eric scans craigslist for ads placed by people who are seeking pot. More often than not, he'll find someone posting an ad looking for marijuana using code names like "Mary Jane," "MJ," "the sticky icky," "the chronic" and "420."
Recently, however, Eric posted an ad on craigslist indicating he was willing to trade marijuana for sexual favors from women or money from men. Men who offered up a woman for sex would get a discount.
"It's not prostitution," he said, noting he had completed a few transactions in response to the ad. "It's like a date, just weed instead of dinner."
Eric doesn't flaunt his pot-dealing and said he doubts his neighbors — or law enforcement — know about what he does.
Local police and federal authorities haven't given him reason to worry.
Jeff Eig, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Seattle office, said the amounts of illicit drugs sold via online transactions are generally so small that his agency hasn't specifically gone after craigslist users dealing dope.
Instead, he said, the DEA has chosen to focus on online pharmacies that sell drugs such as Oxycontin, morphine and Ritalin — all legal but restricted prescription drugs — to people without prescriptions at a high profit margin.
"We've done stings with online pharmacies," Eig said. "We have a division called diversion control which regularly investigates how dealers are getting legal drugs into the illicit market."
Lt. William Edwards of the Seattle Police Department's narcotics unit said cracking down on dealers selling drugs on craigslist and other sites such as Myspace, LiveJournal and Friendster is "on the radar screen but not a priority."
Edwards said most of the transactions made over craigslist are very small.
"While we don't have anything ongoing, we do monitor it from time to time," he said. "But right now we're just not seeing that much. In other jurisdictions there seems to be more trafficking. But here, it appears to be mostly coded and in smaller amounts."
Craigslist isn't the only Web site pot smokers are using to find marijuana. One, WeBeHigh.com, hosts user-contributed pages for many world cities, including Seattle, that detail where to find marijuana dealers.
Police in other cities around the country have been increasingly vigilant against online crime via craigslist and other sites. Last year, Boston police arrested five women suspected of running a prostitution ring that advertised on craigslist. Police in Hanover, Mass., southeast of Boston, recently arrested a 44-year-old woman who allegedly sold Ecstasy and other drugs online.
Even though Seattle voters in 2004 approved an initiative that required police to make enforcing marijuana possession for adults the lowest priority, selling is still a felonious offense under state law. Possession of less than 40 grams is a misdemeanor.
Despite the law, Eric and two other dealers contacted by The Seattle Times who sell marijuana online said they simply aren't that concerned.
One dealer who lives in Seattle's Montlake neighborhood said his customers feel more at ease "making a connection" online than on the streets.
Another man from West Seattle, who was recently offering a quarter-ounce of marijuana for $75 — "the good stuff," he said — thinks his clients would rather e-mail a dealer back and forth for a few days to make sure they're legit than risk meeting someone and having the deal go awry.
"You never know what's going to happen," he said. "You could easily get robbed or beat up if you run into the wrong people."
None of the dealers is worried about retribution from craigslist or other sites.
Susan Best, spokeswoman for San Francisco-based craigslist, said the company prohibits drug peddling and similar crimes on its site and cooperates with law enforcement when asked.
Still, the site relies on users to monitor posts. Users can flag posts that potentially violate the site's rules, but many regarding drug use remain active for days, sometimes expiring before site administrators can delete them.
"And, let me be clear," Best wrote. "We don't want illegal activity on our site. It is not welcome."
Nathan Hurst: 206-464-2112 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company