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Nine Months In Federal Prison

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If this isn’t the pinnacle of INSANITY in the war on drugs, I don’t know what is. Even forgetting for the moment who he is – a 65-year-old man got NINE MONTHS IN FEDERAL PRISON for selling bongs over the Internet? Mother-rapers and child-molesters get less. Who is protected? Who is served? How does society benefit?

    Actor-comedian Tommy Chong reported to a privately run federal prison to serve his nine-month sentence for conspiring to sell bongs and other drug paraphernalia over the Internet even as his attorneys prepared to argue for his release pending appeal.

    Chong, 65, was sentenced Sept. 11 by U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab in Pittsburgh. He reported Wednesday to a minimum-security facility run for the Federal Bureau of Prisons near Bakersfield, Calif.

    The judge has set an Oct. 16 hearing on a request by Chong’s attorney to release the actor, best-known as the drug-addled Chong in the Cheech & Chong movies and comedy routines, while he appeals the sentence to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. [AP]

The conviction is bad enough – give him community service, fine him, probation, tell him to make anti-drug commercials – NINE MONTHS IN FEDERAL PRISON???

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Houghton argued that Chong grew wealthy glamorizing drug use and trivializing law enforcement in his films and said Chong used his characters to promote his business.

    Chong’s attorneys argued that he should be sentenced no more harshly than any of the other defendants thus far in the national drug-paraphernalia investigation. They wanted him to be sentenced to no more than six months’ house arrest and six months’ probation.

Chong got this sentence precisely because of his fictional persona – talk about the “chilling” of artistic expression. I am flabbergasted, disgusted and appalled. FREE TOMMY CHONG!

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About Eric Olsen

  • Natalie Davis

    The war on (some) drugs and a plant. A PLANT. Meanwhile, the judge is likely enjoying three-martini lunches. Fucking travesty. Free Tommy, yes. But I say free ALL of those in jails for so-called “drug” offenses. Or jail Limbaugh too.

  • Eric Olsen

    What Natalie said.

    For any of this to change there needs to be some real indignation out there from sea to shining sea.

  • Johno

    Hey, guys– he broke the dang law. Which law? The INVISIBLE law. After all, EVERYBODY knows that ANY device that could be used to deliver illegal drugs shall be considered a priori evidence of intent to use, and distributing such devices shall be considered equivalent to distribution of illegal drugs.

    Don’t you understand? These kinds of laws, they can’t be written down, because laws written down can be repealed. Gotta crack down on the reefer. Reefer makes terrorists. There’s a WAR on, people! No time for crybabies.

    Shut up! Shut up!

  • Johno

    All clumsy efforts at irony aside, yes. This is a fucking travesty, and makes a sick joke of our civil liberties and the criminal justice system.

  • Taloran

    “ANY device that could be used to deliver illegal drugs shall be considered a priori evidence of intent to use”

    With a little more twisting of the law, couldn’t a pickup truck then be used as evidence? It can deliver flowers, therefore it could be used to deliver drugs, depending on how they chose to define “deliver”.
    If they really wanted to getcha, the could use your bicycle as evidence.

  • Taloran

    Heck, while they’re at it, they should put all the frame shops and windshield repair companies out of business and incarcerate the employees. After all, a flat piece of glass is the best instrument for snorting coke.
    And close the treasury department. They manufacture $20 bills, which we all know are delivery devices.
    How ’bout the apple orchards? Corn farmers? Manufacturers of aluminum foil? Diamond Match company?

    What a bloody joke our government, and its law enforcement arm, has become.

  • Eric Olsen

    It is utterly preposterous – I would think the whole paraphernalia law is unconstitutional – how could it not be hopelessly vague?

  • Taloran

    I’ve heard that [Nazi reference] Ashcroft is proposing a Constitutional amendment that will make moral opposition to the death penalty punishable by death.

    Just kidding – but maybe he’ll read this and think “What a great idea!”

  • Eric Olsen

    Great one, Tal.

    There are elements of our judicial system that would make kafka and Terry Gilliam feel vindicated.

  • Johno

    Seriously, Taloran, please don’t invoke Godwin’s law here. The debate is far to serious to be cast in those terms.

    That being said, it’s a little (little?) disappointing, the recent quality of our Atty Gen’s. Between Reno and Ashcroft, the Justice Department has gone seriously off beam. NEVER forget– Ashcroft’s department might have passed the Patriot act, but all the parts were written by Reno’s staff.

  • Eric Olsen

    I can understand using “used” paraphernalia as evidence in a drug case – there would be residue, etc. But how can new, unused plastic, glass and whatever be an offense unto itself, punishable by NINE FUCKING MONTHS in federal prison? Babies are conceived and born in nine months (as I am particularly well aware at the moment). How can this happen in the “world’s freest nation”?

  • Taloran

    I had never heard of Godwin’s law, so I looked it up and I apologize for my inadvertent invocation thereof (though I do not apologise for my choice of titles for our illustrious Attorney General, only for its use here.) I will attempt to make less controversial word choices when speaking of our current administration on BlogCritics from here on out. I have a tendency to do one of two things – either carefully, intentionally and rationally compose, or spout off in a stream of consciousness manner. I was guilty of the latter in my immediately preceding comment.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Tal, I’m sure that was way more mea culpa than the offense warranted.

  • Johno

    Tal: What Eric said.

  • Phillip Winn

    Taloran: Nine lashes and three ‘Our Father’s and I’ll let you off the hook. 😉

    I’m against the whole “war on drugs” in general, and it is the main reason I’m skeptical of the very idea of a “war on terror” in general. The idea that new, unused bongs results in nine months in jail is ridiculous, but mainly because I believe that the war on drugs is ridiculous.

    I’m trying to think of an analogy, but I can’t come up with anything off the top of my head that has a primary illegal use, for which it is used something like 98% of the time, but still has a secondary use that is, well, hardly ever used.

    Maybe “file sharing”? Nah, I suspect the percentage of legal file sharing is much higher than the percentage of legal bong use.

    What a struggle.

    Free Tommy Chong!

  • frost@work

    Phillip: I believe the analogy that you are looking for would be ‘lobbyist’.

  • JR

    “I’m trying to think of an analogy, but I can’t come up with anything off the top of my head that has a primary illegal use, for which it is used something like 98% of the time, but still has a secondary use that is, well, hardly ever used.”

    Um, handguns?

    Or less controversially, how about radar detectors? Which by the way are illegal in Virginia.

  • Natalie Davis

    Godwin’s law sounds like censorship to me, which is why I on principle refuse to respect it. If someone believes Ashcroft or my grandmother are like Hitler, they have the right to say so and other people have the right to discount that someone’s statement.

    Tal, I see no reason for you to apologize and it disturbs me that others would ask it of you.

  • frost@work

    jr: I’d be willing to bet that handguns are used legally exponentionally more times than they are used illegally.

    Maybe the internet would be a more appropriate analogy. The only place where not only does copyright infringment exist, but it flourishes (and I don’t mean mp3’s either).

  • Phillip Winn

    It’s the percentage that throws me. I honestly believe that something like 99.5% of all bongs are used for something illegal. The remaining half percent (or less) might be decorative, or pipe tobacco, or whatever.

    Guns have a very high percentage of non-criminal use, as does the internet. P2P file sharing might be a decent analogy, maybe. THe problem there is that there is a substantial non-illegal use, even if it is drowned out percentage-wise by illegal uses.

    Radar detectors have no possible use that I can determine except for illegal activity (speeding), but that might be the best comparison I’ve heard yet.

    Natalie: The idea of Godwin’s Law is that it is a measure of how much one is willing to discuss a topic reasonably. Sometimes is might be more apt than others, but frankly when people compare Ashcroft to Hitler, I tune out and stop listening. It’s a ridiculous comparison, even in jest, until someone can produce six million dead bodies. Hence Godwin’s Law: “As a [net] discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” with the corollary that once this occurs, that discussion is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.

  • Taloran

    The Bush administration and its figurehead of justice Ashcroft have systematically eroded the civil liberties of the American people in the name of the war on terror. Previously illegal wiretapping and search-and-seizure activity is now legal as long as it’s “justifiable”, as decided by the administration on an as-needed basis. Prisoners of armed conflict are detained in very unpleasant if not inhuman conditions indefinitely, in violation of international law. These same prisoners are held outside the boundaries of the US, with the administration stating that since they’re not here, the usual laws don’t apply.
    The administration seems bent on a campaign of disinformation and propaganda to justify its activities, and when they’re caught in their lies, they tell us they never said that.

    The government is passing ex post facto laws. If I do something that’s legal today, the government was previously unable to bust me for it when it becomes illegal tomorrow.
    Was it illegal to provide computers, money, or other “not-directly-military” support to the Taliban prior to the 9/11 attacks? I think not. However, people are being tried and incarcerated for activities that were not illegal at the time they performed them.

    This gradual erosion of the fabric of the nation’s laws worries me, and makes me draw unfortunate and thus far inaccurate comparisons to the rise of totalitarian regimes that came before.

    I really, really hope that this administration doesn’t decide to start identifying Muslims with a big red crescent on the breast of their clothing.

  • Taloran

    Natalie, I misspoke (can one misspeak when one writes something?) when I used an unfortunate and inaccurate epithet for Ashcroft. I really don’t want Godwin’s Law to come into play on this topic and stop this conversation. I did not feel that folks here were practicing censorship, they simply pointed out to me that my correlary was inaccurate, unjustified, and likely to stop this thread. As I said, I tend to spout off without thinking. And as Philip said, there aren’t six million bodies piled up to justify said comparison.

  • Natalie Davis

    Problem is, I can’t say that the murder of one is less horrible than the murder of six million. It is numerically worse, of course, but in terms of destruction to the fabric of humanity, it’s all the same. Be it six million or several thousand, the horror and tragedy, IMO, is the same.

    Look, I am all for avoiding making that particular comparison as it does tend to stop discussion (I loathe debate). But if someone is speaking honestly and not engaging in namecalling for the sake of calling names, Godwin’s law becomes only a means for right-wingers to shut them up for the crime of holding differing ideas and beliefs. That I find reprehensible.

    Intellectually, I see little difference between Ashcroft’s assault on civil liberties and the draconian methods used by other “leaders” from other lands. There may be a quantitative difference (which, of course, can not be discounted), perhaps there is a difference in degree, but the mindset is terrifyingly similar. Not pointing that out would be irresponsible.

    In any case, I don’t recall signing anything saying that I agreed to be bound by that law. My responsibility is to be truthful and to be as kind and mindful of other’s humanity as I can be. I certainly wish no ills upon Ashcroft or upon the (some)-drug czar or upon the person that I sincerely believe is squatting in the White House. But I won’t sugarcoat what I believe to be the truth about their activities.

  • Eric Olsen

    Taking a step back, I think the “Nazi law” is about proportionality: namely that the almost unimaginable horror and evil of the Nazi regime is so absolute that it removes any sense of proportion. I’m not sure “the law” was really broken in the first place in this instance as the reference was flippant and in passing and not directly related to the discussion itself.

    That said, I think the key to discussion, rather than specific laws, is to try to be sensitive to scale, the relativity of sin, and the efficacy of retaining the big bombs for when they are truly needed.


  • JR

    I think the point of comparing someone to Hitler is to get the label to stick BEFORE that person kills six million.

    But no doubt the analogy is overused.

  • Phillip Winn

    I wavered on this case only slightly because bongs are clearly used for illegal activity the vast majority of the time. While I believe that the activity in question should be legal, it clearly isn’t, so whether or not the sale of equipment for use in that activity should be punishable or not is a gray area.

    But since then I’ve seen Chong’s site, and I have to say that I can see why people might accept an “art” defense.

    I’m back to being completely against this, and I’m sorry I ever wavered. 😉

  • Eric Olsen

    The other element of this that is so disturbing is the relative severity of Chong’s sentence is so clearly related to his speech – as Al points out here – the presecutor blatantly singled out Chong for maximal punishment because of his comedic persona “subjecting law enforcement” to ridicule and “advocating drug use.” He is, in fact, a political prisoner. This is a screaming unconstitutional outrage FAR beyond the simple fact that durg paraphernalia shouldn’t be illegal in the first place and private drug use should be decriminalized (or legalized and taxed, I waver) post haste with the Drug War declared an embarrassing failure.

    Will there be ANY negative consequences? Of course, just as there was after prohibition was repealed, but the benefits to liberty, respect for the law, and the staggering blow to organized crime on every level are well worth the costs.

  • Chris Arabia

    “I think the point of comparing someone to Hitler is to get the label to stick BEFORE that person kills six million.”

    That’s terrible.

    Hitler would have endorsed your way of thinking. Hitler wanted to get all his anti-Semitic labels to stick so he could perform a genocide of the Jews BEFORE they could destroy Germany. Under his and your logic, there’s no need for evidence of the target’s actual guilt.

    The implication that Ashcroft would murder six million people the minute the ACLU back is absurd but seems to be a soothing opiate for the angry left.

    Considering the frequency with which left-leaning people at BC (and elsewhere) try to win arguments by accusing their opponents of fascism, evil, malice, heartlessness, greed, the “isms,” the “phobias,” and *gasp* watching Fox News, the contention that Godwin’s Law is a nefarious right-wing device to silence differing views is utterly ridiculous.

  • TDavid

    Man, is it just me or does Tommy Chong look like he’s twenty years older than he really is? That should be a self-evident message on the brain dangers of overchronicexposure.

    As for the “art” aspect? Well some nudity is deemed artistic and others find the same art pornography. Some of this stuff is very gray area for regulation.

  • JR

    “Hitler would have endorsed your way of thinking. Hitler wanted to get all his anti-Semitic labels to stick so he could perform a genocide of the Jews BEFORE they could destroy Germany. Under his and your logic, there’s no need for evidence of the target’s actual guilt.”

    Hmmm, not exactly what I meant. But your point about accusing someone before a crime is committed is well taken.

    To my mind, the idea is to identify those tactics which Hitler used to put himself in the position of carrying out genocide – things like suppressing speech and political opposition, scapegoating minority groups and generally centralizing all power to himself. I think these kinds of actions are bad in and of themselves; so when we see someone take this course, I think it’s fair to point it out and say, “Hey, we’ve seen this before and look where it led.” History has lessons, no?

    The point is not to come even CLOSE to what happened in Germany, and that means making the call early. I’d rather ruin the careers of a few ambitious politicians than risk a repeat of the Third Reich.

    Of course, it isn’t helpful if people start throwing around Hitler accusations at the drop of a hat (crying wolf). But Ashcroft is still free to defend the Patriot Act or the detentions of alleged terrorists or the prosecution of Tommy Chong or overruling states rights on assisted suicide laws or the curtain in front of that other boob in the Justice building, etc. Ashcroft will be judged on those acts and either removed from office or not. Possibly he will be sued. There will be no killing involved.

    BTW, it’s not just the left that throws these kind of accusations around – I’ve read some pretty extreme characterizations of the Clintons and Janet Reno in these pages. And Godwin’s Law is just an amusing observation; it has no inherent political orientation.

  • gz

    We are doing the same thing the Soviets did: create the boogeyman, enlarge him, and make everybody cow under the fear of something out there doing something horrible to all of us. So it justifies keeping the herd together, circling the wagons, so that the invented common dasturdly foe makes those in power maintain undisputable power over the herd. Anyone who gets out of line threatens the herd–anyone with an original idea is a threat unless it falls in line with the thinking of the herd. America is closer to a herd than at anytime in it’s history.