Tommy Chong Will Be Free in Prison
I feel genuine shock and sorrow upon the news that Tommy Chong is going to prison for nine months. At the same time I am joyful. For one thing, the only other prominent American who up till now is serving a newsworthy jail term for a paraphernalia conviction is Chris Hill, who was such an outspoken Young Republican that it was hard to garner much sympathy for him even within the tobacco accessories industry. There was always a bit of schadenfreude whenever Hill's fourteen month stint at the Eglin prison facility was mentioned. Tommy Chong is a different story.
I enjoyed Cheech and Chong as I was growing up in the seventies and still own one of those gatefold album-sized Big Bambu rolling papers. I was no stoner (but counted many among my friends) and found the comedy duo's routine fun although silly. But, like the late humorist Lenny Bruce, they shocked and broke new ground in comedy. It became not only acceptable but fashionable to joke about marijuana and its many effects not only on college campuses but in Las Vegas and beyond. Cheech and Chong proclaimed that the world was full of pot smoking fools and we were free to recognize our own spacey smoky dumbassedness and not be ashamed.
When Tommy Chong re-appeared in the television series That Seventies Show and in the marijuana classic Half-Baked, it was a triumphant return. He neither glorified the druggy life or condemned it; it was simply the endearing role of a character which he had always played, like the perpetually drunk Otis in the Andy Griffith Show a generation ago.
Chong continued to use the character and his personal belief in the goodness of marijuana when he lent his name to a glass pipe company as well as a drug detox product. Both Nice Dreams Enterprises (operating as Chong Glass) and Tommy Chong's Urine Luck were successful tax-paying companies. Both advertised openly in consumer magazines like High Times and in industry publications such as HeadQuest (which has since the paraphernalia crackdown turned its attention and advertising toward the tattoo and body piercing business). Like dozens of other glass companies, Chong Glass operated as an above-board corporation and Tommy Chong must have thought that he was free to do so.
When Operations Pipe Dreams and Headhunter swooped down from the DEA at outrageous taxpayer expense last winter, 55 of the more prominent paraphernalia company owners were arrested and Chong was not spared. Months of speculation among the storekeepers and wholesalers followed. Many waited for the sentences to be handed down before marking down their wares and getting out of the pipe business altogether. Some went ahead and closed voluntarily. Some were confident that, because the government had targeted the wealthier of the glass dealers, there would be money and topnotch lawyers to fight the good fight.
The details of Tommy Chong's court date were all over the Internet by September 12th, the day after his sentencing. Guilty. Nine months imprisonment, a $20K fine, and $100K in forfeited assets.
Chong's attorney Richard Hirsch had offered the court a deal for leniency: Chong would repudiate his involvement with marijuana and the bong industry and promised to spend his probation making appearances speaking against drug use. The judge said no dice.
Thank you, Judge Schwab.
Because of the court's refusal to accept this devil's bargain to turn Tommy Chong into another horrible Just Say No advertising shill for the Partnership for a Drug Free America, Chong is a free man. For the mere price of nine months in jail, he can spend the rest of his life as a hero for libertarian ideals. He doesn't have to kiss John Ashcroft's ass. He doesn't have to be a liar and a hypocrite. Like those who went to jail and endured the blacklist during the McCarthy Era, Chong can maintain his integrity in these increasingly right-wing Big Brother times. He can use this imprisonment to publicize the punishment inflicted by our government for a non-violent crime which has harmed no one.
Henry David Thoreau said that those who are in prison are in essence the most free.
Face the future with grace and courage, Tommy. Your jail sentence will only add to the authenticity of the beloved character you have delighted us with for decades. The youth of America are depending on you to tell the truth about marijuana. Do the right thing for all of us.