Nelson, BC "Holy Smoke" Shop Owners Defend Designated Dealers at Trial

The Holy Smoke shop in Nelson ran a designated dealer program to challenge Canada's marijuana laws. "We're proving first of all that prohibition doesn't work," says Paul DeFelice.

Holy Smoke, in Nelson BCHoly Smoke, in Nelson BCFour Nelson men accused of selling marijuana say they were practising harm reduction techniques intended to reduce street-level drug dealing, while also making a political statement about the illegal status of the drug they consider a holy sacrament. The men's lawyer, Don Skogstad, said on Monday at the start of the trial that his clients admit they sold drugs to undercover police officers two years ago, but said he will argue the sales were part of a harm reduction program.

Paul DeFelice, Alan Middlemiss, Kelsey Stratas and Akka Annis plan on answering the cannabis trafficking charges with a common law defence of necessity, arguing they were preventing more harm than they were causing by selling high quality cannabis to adults in a controlled setting. Holy Smoke shop proprietor Dustin Cantwell, who was not charged in the case, testified that part of the reason the men sold marijuana was to get rid of street level dealers.

Drug dealers used to congregate in a garden outside the shop selling low quality marijuana at high prices, sometimes to people who appeared to be very young, Cantwell testified on Monday in B.C. provincial court in Nelson. But Cantwell said he noticed changes when Holy Smoke instituted a 'designated dealer' program. In the program, a person associated with the shop was trained in a so-called "harm reduction" method of selling an accurately weighed high quality marijuana product. As a result street-level dealing outside the shop dropped off, testified Cantwell.

Defendant Alan Middlemiss testified potential customers had to be the age of majority as well as sober and polite. They even had to say 'please' when they wanted to make a purchase. Middlemiss drew a laugh from spectators when he replied to judge Don Sperry's question whether someone would be denied if they refused to say please. "There would be a delay," Middlemiss said.

Another one of the defendants, Paul DeFelice, testified another reason for the pot sales was to challenge the drug laws that make marijuana illegal. "We're proving first of all that prohibition doesn't work. Prohibition causes more harm. So if we successfully prove that, then it's up to politicians and people to work at repealing prohibition. Let's re-legalize pot," said DeFelice. The court also heard that many of the store's regulars belong to the Church of the Universe, which regards marijuana as a sacrament, according to Cantwell. The shop also sold psychedelic mushrooms occasionally, but only during a full moon or pagan festivals, Cantwell said. The trial is expected to resume later this week.

- Article from CBC News, Tuesday April 29th

Newspaper photo of Paul DeFelice outside courtNewspaper photo of Paul DeFelice outside courtAccused welcome chance to 'tell the truth' about their business

Nelson Daily News
By Sara Newham

Hopefulness and happiness were among the sentiments expressed by two of the accused in the Holy Smoke drug trafficking case moments before their trial began Monday. With a handful of supporters milling outside the Nelson Courthouse, Holy Smoke co-owners Paul DeFelice and Alan Middlemiss explained that it was an opportunity to tell the truth about their business.

"For me I think it's a chance to get on the stand and to be able to tell the truth about what we were up to and the whys and hows, the issue around cannabis," said Middlemiss, who is charged with trafficking cannabis and psilocybins. "A lot of times you go to go and the lawyers say just zip your mouth and I'll do all the talking. This is kind of the opposite." Sauntering up to the courthouse with lawyer Donald Skogstad, DeFelice said he was hopeful, excited, and a little nervous. He said he planned to use the trial as a platform for their cause to legalize marijuana.

"We're taking the high road. We're trying to prove that we were preventing more harm than we were causing. We're not to play cagey or pull technicalities," said DeFelice, who was arrested in July 2006 outside the store and is also facing a separate charge of possession of cannabis. "We're not even going to question police, we're just going to state our case that we have our community's best interests at heart and I think we can show where we eliminated a lot of street dealing and kids coming into contact with hard drugs and dealers. It will be interesting."

Noting that people in this community just "choose" to ignore the law about consuming cannabis, Middlemiss explained that the defense team would be talking about the special place that Nelson is. "Nelson is a beautiful cultural place full of young people and that smell that you smell on the streets is some of the world's finest cannabis so what that says to me is that the world is saying we have some of the best cannabis here in Nelson and that we have a culture that goes along with it. It's something that's special to Nelson," said Middlemiss.

When asked if he was confident about the case, the lawyer for the duo and co-accused Kelsey Stratas and Akka Annis, explained he was not sure because using the defense of necessity is "uncharted territory." Middlemiss, however, just sees it as an opportunity to go on record and say what they want to say. "People say, what's your chances of winning and I say I don't know it at all, but I know we have 100 per cent chance of telling the truth. That's what's making me the happiest," he said.

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