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November 25, 2004 - The Nelson Daily News (CN BC)

Holy Smoke 'Shocked' By NY Times Article

Story Indicates Downtown Store Openly Selling Pot; Not So Say Owners

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Holy Smoke Culture Shop is debunking statements published in the New York Times last Sunday that alleged the store sold marijuana out of its "produce section."

"We were a little shocked to see that," said Paul DeFelice, one of three owners of the head shop.

In a Nov. 21 Times article titled "Greetings from Resisterville," reporter Fred Bernstein explored the controversy that erupted with the announcement that a monument would be erected in the area honouring U.S. war resisters who made their homes in the West Kootenay.

Bernstein stated that the area has a long history of war resistance thanks to the Doukhobours and Vietnam draft resisters, who "dotted the countryside with yurts and geodesic domes."

"The town has long been a haven for free spirits," he wrote and continued on " 'It's quite a unique blend,' " said Alan Middlemiss, an owner of the Holy Smoke, a store that sells marijuana in its 'produce section.' Selling marijuana is illegal in British Columbia but tolerated by local authorities as long as minors are not served."

According to DeFelice, his business partner was troubled by the way Bernstein quoted him in the paper, a publication that has an average Sunday circulation of more than 1.6 million.

"It totally upset Alan when he read that, because it makes it sound like it was a unique blend of pot but he's talking about the people here," DeFelice told the Daily News. "You'll see that that's in quotes but the rest isn't."

DeFelice said that as far as he knows Middlemiss only spoke to the reporter about the monument.

"Alan never made any of those comments."

Since the article appeared in the broadsheet just four days ago, a "flood of people" who have read the article have wandered over to Holy Smoke to check out the so called produce section.

"We want to counter that to say there's no pot for sale and there's no produce section here," DeFelice stressed, adding that a sign was put up inside the store stating so.

And as far as police being tolerant of marijuana trafficking, DeFelice said that again no statements were made suggesting so.

"As far as I know they're not tolerant or anything like that.

There's no written or unwritten agreements," he said. "As far as I know they would still bust our [expletive deleted] given half a chance or a complaint."

And that's something that just doesn't happen, said Nelson City Police Sgt. Steve Bank.

"Interestingly enough we don't get any complaints about Holy Smoke from anybody," Bank told the NDN after he read the Times article.

Police in Nelson certainly do not turn a "blind eye to" the store, as trafficking cannabis is an illegal activity.

"It's still a criminal activity and it's considered as such by us," Bank said. "It's not something that we condone or tolerate in any way."

Bank said he was "curious" about the statement that said selling marijuana is illegal but tolerated by local authorities.

"Maybe they were misquoted," said the sergeant. "I don't know where they'd get that from."

Both DeFelice and the sergeant said the press definitely is bad news for the community.

"From my perspective, it misleads people as to what the type of community of Nelson is," Bank said. "If they think they are going to come here and be able to produce or traffic in drugs or marijuana they're wrong.

For the Holy Smoke, the publicity worries them.

"We saw what happened to Da Kine in Vancouver," DeFelice said.

Da Kine Smoke and Beverage Shop was raided by police in September after news stories about the east-side's cafe's open sales of marijuana. Pot was allegedly being sold to anyone who filled out a form saying it was for medicinal use. The owners are charged with possession of pot for the purpose of trafficking.

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