a/k/a Tommy Chong

a/k/a Tommy Chong, written, produced, and directed by Josh Gilbert, is a documentary film that chronicles the Drug Enforcement Administration raid on comedian Tommy Chong’s house and his subsequent jail sentence for trafficking in illegal drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to 9 months in federal prison.  Here’s the trailer….

This story infuriates me because not only is it way beyond the legitimate function of government–especially our federal government–to jail someone for selling glass configured in a certain way, but that this was clearly a case of entrapment.

Through Operation Pipe Dreams, the DEA tricked Tommy Chong’s son, Paris, into shipping them bongs in Pennsylvania:  Paris had a strict policy never to ship bongs to Pennsylvania, which enforced a little used statute prohibiting the use of “the mails or any other facility of interstate commerce to transport drug paraphernalia.”  Paris repeatedly refused to ship bongs to the undercover agents asking for merchandise to be shipped to Pennsylvania.  Failing to place a phone order, the agents went into Chong’s shop in California and ordered a huge amount of special order handmade glass bongs and said they would come pick them up.   The Chong shop made all of these bongs only to be told by the agents that they could not pick them up, that Chong needed to ship them to Pennsylvania.  Chong repeatedly refused but ultimately capitulated in order to make room in his warehouse.   The DEA immediately swarmed the bong shop and Tommy Chong’s home (although Tommy had nothing to do with the transaction).

In order to keep his wife and son from being prosecuted, Tommy Chong agreed to 9 months in jail, over $120,000 in fines and forfeitures and a year of probation.  Operation Pipe Dreams cost the American taxpayer $12 million, used the efforts of 2,000 federal agents and resulted in 55 arrests and only one jail sentence, that of Tommy Chong.  The DEA admitted that Tommy Chong was a target because of his movies glamorizing the sale and distribution of illegal drugs and for trivializing “law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking and use.” Obviously this was a government witch hunt designed to curtail an individual’s freedom of speech and to serve as a warning to others of what might happen if you disparage the government in any way.

My only real complaint with this documentary, which was interesting and amusing to watch, is that several references are made to this being a uniquely Bush Administration tactic.  I think it’s dangerous to believe that only one president or one party is guilty of abusing the power of the federal government in the prosecution of the Drug War.  Lucia Graves reported in a recent article in the Huffington Post:

the [Obama] administration has unleashed an interagency cannabis crackdown that goes beyond anything seen under the Bush administration, with more than 100 raids, primarily on California pot dispensaries, many of them operating in full compliance with state laws. Since October 2009, the Justice Department has conducted more than 170 aggressive SWAT-style raids in 9 medical marijuana states, resulting in at least 61 federal indictments, according to data compiled by Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group.

That article refers to a Rolling Stone interview of Obama in which Obama out-and-out lies about breaking his campaign promises on the subject. Here’s a short video of the campaign promise and one example of its being broken:

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