Checking in With Tommy Chong

Two new articles catch up on the Tommy Chong case. An LA Weekly article delves into the wierdness of the case in Chong Family Values. Sounds like an Ashcroft-driven affair all the way through.

According to [defense lawyer Stanford] Levenson, the deal he struck with the prosecutors allowed them to prosecute Tommy Chong and Chong Glass (effectively shutting it down), in exchange for leaving wife Shelby, who had signed the family’s loan checks, and [child] Paris alone. Tommy cooperated with the government and was the first of Operation Pipe Dreams’ defendants to plead guilty. But while the feds told Levenson they were not necessarily seeking jail time, their legal body language said otherwise.

City Beat analyzes the case and interviews Chong at the Taft Correctional Institution where he is serving his nine month sentence.

Fifty-five individuals and companies were busted across the country that day. A few others got prison time. The one who got the longest sentence was Tommy Chong. He reported to prison on October 8, and he’ll be there until July 2004. A judge recently rejected requests for home detention or early release.

“Tommy’s the only one that’s gotten a federal sentence,” says Allen St. Pierre, spokesperson for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML. “He had no prior arrests. He was no flight risk. He is a cultural icon and a taxpayer, probably higher than most of us. And certainly did not fit the basic criteria of who should go to jail for paraphernalia.”

But there’s one criterion he fit just too neatly. Every burnout in America would hear about it and get scared.

“[Chong] wasn’t the biggest supplier. He was a relatively new player. But he had the ability to market products like no other,” said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan at Chong’s sentencing.

“They went after Tommy Chong because he was just what they needed,” says St. Pierre. “If you have to think of one individual that would represent the government’s efforts to enforce prohibition, or a representative of the negative stereotype, then, out of a country of almost 300 million Americans, there’s really only about three or four people who fit that bill: Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, and Tommy Chong.”

Tommy Chong describes what his bust has come to mean for him. Not surprisingly, he's become politicized. We think this insight of his is right on target:

They wanted to make an example of me. Really, what they wanted to do was to shut down the whole culture.”

[links via Hit and Run]

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