Freedom Fighter of the Month


August 1994 - High Times Magazine

by Libby Halstead

When narcotic officers with masks, shotguns and a search warrant entered Debby Moore’s Wichita home the night of November 16, 1992, the first thing she said was “I have marijuana tax stamps.” And she offered to show them where the product was. Based on her reading of the Kansas marijuana tax-stamp statute, Moore believed that announcing her compliance with the law would protect her from prosecution and protect her property from seizure. She also planned to use her compliance as the basis for an unprecedented legal challenge to the state marijuana laws.

But stamps or no stamps, when police found an alleged 14 pounds on the premises of Moore’s home and the Hemp Store, her business in the same building, she was arrested - along with her 16-year-old-daughter, Mechell. Police also confiscated personal items and store inventory whose worth Moore estimates at $16.00 including books, printed matter, and most items that had a marijuana-leaf image on them - making them “drug-related paraphernalia.” She was charged with two felony counts of possession with intent to sell and selling marijuana without tax stamps. The prosecution claimed Moore’s tax stamps had expired. Moore had purchased more than $6,000 worth of tax stamps in the past year, so naturally there were current and expired tax stamps. The charges carry a maximum combined sentence of 40 years.

Debby Moore had anticipated the bust. “I knew it was a matter of time once I put a marijuana leaf in my front window,” she says, referring to the Hemp Store, which she opened in July 1991 as an outlet for hemp products and information. Prompted by the Bush-era attacks on civil rights in the name of the War on Drugs, she became a full-time organizer of a high-visibility campaign to legalize marijuana in Kansas. In August 1991, she founded Kansas Environmentalists for Commerce in Hemp (KECH) To distribute information on the values of cannabis sativa as a biomas fuel, paper fiber, textiles, medicine and nutritional protein. She also made no secret of the fact she smoked pot.

With the motto “No compromise, legalize,” Moore has lobbied local and state politicians, made public presentations, taught a Hemp Education class at a local high school, initiated postcard and corporate boycott campaigns, answered the phone at (800) 544-HEMP and handed out information at fairs and conferences all over Kansas. A seamstress by profession , Moore sold 100% hemp clothes and offered free access to her 4,000-page hemp database. “I can’t tell how many ways I got in their face,” says Moore with a knowing chuckle. Known to the Wichita press as the Hemp Lady, Moore was elected in 1993 to the Citizen Participation Organization seat in her City Council district on a prolegalization ticket. At 45, she is a cheerful optimistic with a sharp tongue who clearly revels in her right to free speech and fight like hell to defend it.

Debby Moore is “One of the few people in the country who has gone out of her way to adhere to the tax-stamp law,” says Allen St. Piewrre, assistant national director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Kansas statute 79-5204(a) of 1987 states that “no dealer may possess any marijuana...unless the tax has been paid as evidence by an official stamp or other indicia.” The tax is $3.50 per gram, or roughly $100 per ounce of marijuana.

Moore says when she first heard of the law in 1992, she start complying. She bought close to $5,000 worth of stamps that year, and more since. According to her attorney, Charles O’Hara, Moore “Became legally empowered to possess and sell the drug” when she bought the stamps. O’Hara plans to base her legal defense on the argument that the state cannot tax people for an activity and then put them in jail for it. “We’re going to get legalization out of this,” says Moore, pledging to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Legal opinions on winning legalization through this strategies range from “ambiguous” to “out of the ballpark.” They point out that the Kansas Drug Tax Stamp Application Form clearly states that the state statute does not give you immunity from prosecution.

NORML’s St. Pierre explains that marijuana tax-stamp laws are on the books in at least 27 states. He says these laws “boil down to bludgeons” and their effect is to intimidate people by threatening them with pursuit by state revenue entities as well as by the criminal justice system if they get caught with marijuana. But he say he knows of no other case where a defendant has used compliance with a tax stamp act as a legal defense. “You gotta believe,” says Moore.

But it looks like she might not have to test her defense. At a pre-trial hearing in her felony possession trial in May 1993, Sedgwick County Judge Paul Clark found that the police misled a judge into signing the search warrant -- and all results from the seizures -- invalidated, thus destroying the prosecution’s case.

In a surprising move, however, the district attorney appealed the judge’s ruling. The appeal was denied, putting a halt to prosecution of Moore’s criminal case. Moore says she declined the state’s offer to partially restitute her seized property fearing that her case could be reopened following an appeal to the state Supreme Court. She says her defense rests on the merchandise seized from he store as evidence.

Moore has cut back her activities due to her poor financial situation, and expects to close the Hemp Store soon. But her enthusiasm is undeterred. Last August, she organized a 44-hour Mean Green Mega Marathon Bash fundraising concert to help defray her legal costs. With classic Debby Moore bravado and humor, the invitation reads. “Let's pack a bowl and rock ‘n roll!”