Michael Moss told Phoenix New Times in December that, after consulting with a prepaid legal service, he had found a loophole that allowed him to sell pot seeds as "souvenirs." New Times spoke with a veteran cannabis attorney and postal authorities who disagreed, but Moss — who has a degenerative disc disease and started his business as a way to help other patients — forged ahead, advertising his website as "One Of The Largest Seed Banks In The USA."
The site has gone dark in recent weeks, and Moss's local paper, the White Mountain Independent, speculated that the long arm of postal law may have finally caught up to him.
Reached by New Times Monday, Moss said that's not the case. He's a free man, still living in Show Low, and hasn't heard anything from the feds. He decided to put the website on pause because the articles, and additional advertising he bought, had made things "too hot."
“It’s still a Schedule I narcotic. That’s what they’re coming after people for. I'm here to warn people" that they can get in trouble, he said.
That was the case in November, too, though. So: what's changed?
Moss said he spoke to a new attorney who told him he had no protection under the recently passed marijuana legalization initiative. Also, he thinks that the marijuana industry is out to get him.
“I’ve made myself really known … they’re going to make an example of somebody, and I don’t want that somebody to be me," he said.
Moss's paranoia isn't unwarranted. Tom Dean, a former legal director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) who has practiced cannabis law for over 20 years, told New Times in December that law enforcement may face pressure from the cannabis industry to crack down on unlicensed growers and avoid a free-for-all as the legal market is established.
Moss recently attended an online seminar and asked Dean about his business. When Dean repeated his same general advice — that the scheme was a bad idea and that law enforcement will monitor social media and perform small buys to build up a case against vendors — Moss took it to heart. Moss said that based on Dean's response and the fact that the Marijuana Industry Trade Association of Arizona has been liking his social media posts and raising their visibility, he believed he was being set up.
"I’m the hottest Instagram page out there," he said. "They’ve got to be watching me.”
Dean doesn't dispute that authorities may be watching Moss, but he did say he's not aware of any conspiracy to take Moss down — besides the obvious danger Moss was putting himself in through openly advertising his business selling a controlled substance across state lines.
“I’m glad that he’s reconsidered, and I just hope it’s soon enough to avoid potential consequences,” Dean said.
In December, Liz Davis, a spokesperson for the Phoenix division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said that selling controlled substances through the mail, including seeds, is a federal offense. She said the service would investigate further if New Times provided Moss' name and contact info — which New Times declined to do.
Davis told New Times that the agency had no involvement in shutting down the website.
"Perhaps he has received some good legal counsel regarding the legality of utilizing the US Mail for such a product?" she speculated in a separate statement to the White Mountain Independent.
Moss said he's frustrated that the only way he can move forward legally is by partnering with one of the dispensaries that have set up a near-monopoly for themselves under legalization, but he's decided to play by the rules. He's currently in talks with a number of dispensaries to see if they will bring him on board and make his seed-growing operation legit for in-state sales.
"We’ll be back real soon," he said. "To a dispensary near you. Legally.”