Tommy Chong rose to fame alongside Cheech Marin through their stoner buddy comedy routines in the ‘70s, doing standup together and getting up to all manner of mischief in their popular films. In the early ‘00s, Chong ran an online business, using his stoner image to sell marijuana paraphernalia. Unfortunately, the Attorney General at this time, John Ashcroft, was hell bent on cracking down on the sale of marijuana paraphernalia, such as glass pipes and bongs. His project was codenamed “Operation Pipe Dreams” and Chong was one of the people arrested. According to Chong and his lawyers, he was chosen because authorities wanted to make a high profile example of him.
Marijuana Paraphernalia Relies on Presentation for Context
Chong chose to plead guilty in order to save his wife and son from prosecution as they were also involved in running the online business. He served a year in jail. The law regarding the sale of marijuana paraphernalia is a bit murky because all of the products Chong sold online are readily available for purchase from most physical and online smoke shops. The difference is that they are advertised for tobacco use whereas Chong’s business implied marijuana use. The paraphernalia itself is not illegal to own or sell, so long as it is advertised for a “legitimate” use as opposed to being advertised to promote illegal activities.
The Hope Promised by a Different Climate
The public opinion on marijuana use has changed a lot since the early 2000s. Marijuana is still officially considered illegal according to federal law but the majority of people disagree with its status now. Over 60 percent of the country are in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Marijuana has been found to be safer and healthier than alcohol, cigarettes and prescription medication and many studies around the world have proven its medicinal value. 25 states plus D.C. have legalized medical marijuana and 4 states and D.C. have legalized recreational use with several more states voting on whether to legalize at this November ballot. All of this makes for a completely different climate around marijuana use and Chong hopes to use this to have his charges pardoned by Obama.
Chong’s Petition to the President
Obama has already been working to help those who were imprisoned for marijuana related crimes. 673 people have had their sentences reduced and 70 more people have been pardoned. Chong, now wishing to resume his business, is petitioning the Obama administration to remove the civil barriers from his previous conviction so he can continue his work. So far he has 13,000 signatures but he still needs 80,000 more by the due date, September 25th, in order to secure a response on the matter. That date is quickly approaching but Chong remains hopeful.
All things considered now, the conviction against Chong hardly seems fair to maintain let alone continue harming his life and livelihood. The items he sold are available at most smoke shops and dispensaries. They are not even illegal to own. You can show your support for Tommy Chong by signing the petition.