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Tommy Chong, political prisoner

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So do you think Rush Limbaugh will be sharing a federal prison cell with Tommy Chong anytime soon? Not bloody likely, but after all, Rush has apparently been on the black market buying and consuming buttloads of hardcore prescription painkillers- you know, actual narcotic drugs. Surely that rates at least as bad as selling glass bongs. Best I can tell, Chong has not been caught with so much as one lousy, stinkin’ joint.

On the other hand, Rush Limbaugh has not made a career of satirizing the drug war, as Tommy Chong has. Therefore, Chong gets specially targeted for prosecution and nine months in federal prison based on an obscure and stupid law.

Make no mistake or excuses but that this is highly selective prosecution. If selling drug paraphernalia constitutes criminal activity, there are at least hundreds of thousands of people who should be in prison. My cranky old Republican father, for example, spent thirty years running a convenience store. Along with milk and bread and lunchmeat, he sold tens of thousands of packs of Zig Zags, among other brands of papers- and precious little loose tobacco. He and every manager of a gas station, 7-11, or Village Pantry in the country are “guilty.” They know what those papers are for. To the brig for the old man, I say!

From the LA Times:

During sentencing, however, [federal prosecutor Mary] Houghton filed papers with the court that cited Chong’s movie career as one factor in pushing for harsher punishment.

“The defendant has become wealthy throughout his entertainment career through glamorizing the illegal distribution and use of marijuana,” she wrote. “Feature films that he made with his longtime partner Cheech Marin, such as ‘Up in Smoke,’ trivialize law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking and use.”

In short, Tommy Chong is a political prisoner, slapped in prison on bogus charges because of movies and records he’s made criticizing US government officials and policies- exactly the core point of what the First Amendment is supposed to protect.

Indeed, his people describe even the pipes he is in prison for selling as art rather than paraphernalia. This makes some sense, considering the expensive and apparently fragile and somewhat impractical nature of the designs. It would make more sense to keep a $200 autographed glass Chong bong as a show piece on the mantle, and get a cheap plastic bong from which to actually consume a bowl of the Weed From Hell. [CLICK HERE to see the archived website at the invaluable Memory Hole website.]

Some infantile liberals hollered their fool heads off about how the Dixie Chicks were supposedly censored or suppressed after Natalie Maine’s comment about being “ashamed” of the president. That’s nonsense. No one in the Bush administration said a word about it. The worst they got was that some radio stations quit playing their records for a minute because a lot of the country music fan base didn’t want to hear them. At no time, however, were they even passingly threatened with any kind of legal sanction.

Chong, on the other hand, has clearly been targeted and actually imprisoned just exactly because of the political content of his artistic creations. If there is some doubt that the point of this is to suppress Chong’s speech, consider

The court made Chong promise he would not profit financially from his case, said his attorney, Richard Hirsch. That means, probably, not weaving what he calls “the incident” into his comedy act.

Hmm, so Chong will be lined up for who knows what punishment if he in fact writes this story into his next screenplay, as he had initially promised to do. Is there anyone willing to seriously argue that the point of this is somehow NOT to suppress his constitutionally protected free speech?

On the other hand, some of these founding documents of American liberty were printed on hemp paper, so in the name of fighting the scourge of Cheech and Chong copping a buzz, the Bill of Rights should be expected to be Up in Smoke.

Rand knows that I’ve bent over backwards to cut the Ashcroft Justice Department maximum slack, in consideration of the real responsibilities they have in stopping terrorism. Even as a staunch libertarian, I haven’t bitched too much even about the Patriot Act.

This persecution of a drug war dissident goes way beyond the pale, however. Granted, this is not nearly as evil as Janet Reno’s murders in Waco, but it is an unconscionable violation of constitutional liberties. Heads should roll, starting with Mary Houghton. SHE should be in prison, not Chong. The judge and prosecutors here are the threat to our liberty, not Tommy Chong. We’re not fighting a war on terrorists just so we can have the privilege of being thrown in prison for criticizing our own government.

Certainly, President Bush should immediately pardon Mr. Chong, with profuse apologies. This should definitely involve actual and punitive financial compensation.

Hell, these people make Stacy Keach’s vice officers look like Nice Dreams.

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  • I’m sympathetic to your point about Rush, Mountain. Indeed, I’m sympathetic to Rush. I’m a part time fan, beyond which I’m totally sympathetic to ANYONE with serious issues of physical pain.

    Again, I don’t intend that Rush should be in prison- but he should certainly be in line for prison ahead of Tommy Chong. You can say that Chong was a “profiteer,” but not from drugs. He had NO drugs- and Rush did. Even the drug that Tommy could be accused of indirectly promoting (marijuana) is far less bad than what the stuff that Rush has actually been doing.

    And as to “profiteering” on promoting drugs, why are tens of thousands of shop owners selling Zig Zags and every kind of pipes not being sent to prison likewise? Answer: This is clearly SELECTIVE PROSECUTION based on Chong’s artistic speech.

    It is TOTALLY fair to hold Ashcroft responsible for the reprehensible actions of HIS justice department. Even at that, I carefully contextualized this abuse relative to his predecessor. But if one of his subordinates is doing somehing highly wrong like this, it is the AG’s responsibility to rein them in.

    And don’t they have some actual CRIMINALS to arrest and prosecute?

  • Eric Olsen

    Good points Mountain and food for thought, but my outrage over Chong’s situation – at the moment pointed most directly at the judge for throwing the book at him – is unabated.

    The outrage directed at Rush is a result of his screaming hypocrisy.

  • Mountain

    A couple of qualifiers first: I first saw this story over on bureaucrash, and I am sympathetic to Tommys position. I also think the WOSD is a poorly run business at best, and a travesty in general. But using the issue to bash Ashcroft and Rush does nothing to help Chong, and probably causes a lot of people to stop listening.

    Ashcroft didn’t invent the WOSD, and he didn’t write and pass the laws involved. He is the USAs chief law enforcement official, and if he even knew about Chongs case, I doubt he could, would or should try to interfere. Chong violated a federal law, in a big way, and no amount of excuses can diminish that or make it go away. He made millions of dollars doing so, and made himself an un-avoidable target for prosecution. I’m just rendering the cold facts here, not taking sides.

    To even compare Chong to Rush is ludicrous. Rush is an addict, not a profiteer, and the road he has to walk in the next year or so is going to be a thousand times harder than Tommy Chongs.

    Chong will be locked up, barely, at a minimum security prison in California, one which was characterized in years gone by as a “country club” prison. Nobody there has to take it up the ass unless it’s consensual.

    Rush has to go cold turkey on a well developed tolerance to a highly addictive pain killer. Given the choice, I’d take Chongs place any day over Rushs.

    Tommy Chong got the shaft in the War On Some Drugs, no doubt about it. But Ashcroft and Rush Limbaugh have nothing to do with Chongs predicament, and it doesn’t help Chong to turn off half your audience by bashing them over the head with it.

  • Whoa there, Jim, you’ve got no cause to be malicious towards Rush. My point is not that Rush should be in prison, but that Mr. Chong should NOT be. I would hope that a good liberal like you would show a little more compassion for someone suffering in absolute physical pain- even a conservative.

    Play nice!

    I’d say that at this point liberal and conservative politicians are about equally guilty in perpetuating this ridiculous and destructive drug war.

    Eric has the shorthand version about right there with “social conservatives and nanny-staters.” That is, culpability resides about equally with conservative types who want drugs to be illegal because getting high and having a good time is immoral or against God or Decency- and liberal do-gooders who know what is best for everyone, and aren’t afraid to make their opinions on such things compulsory.

  • In his book “Reefer Madness”, Eric Schlosser points out how insane the US “War on Drugs” is when it comes to weed and how manadatory sentencing has made a cruel joke of any concept of “justice”.

    A lot of it has roots (so to speak) in the Cold War with a pissing match between the DEA and FBI.

    Also, given the growth of privatized prisons in the US, if you were running a for-profit outfit, which would you rather have: a prison full of marijuania smokers, or violent, rage-filled thugs?

    I hope they put Rush into a federal pound-you-in-the-ass prison with no conjugal visits.

  • Taloran

    Come on now, Ashcroft’s justice department is NOT eroding the civil liberties of the American people, free speech included. Just ask him!

  • Eric Olsen

    Not liberals: a coalition of opportunists, deflectors, hypocrites, control freaks, social conservatives and nanny-staters.

  • Doc

    SO the drug “war” is the fault of liberals? Whaa…huh?

    Dude, you got some of that hillbilly heroin up your schnaz? 😉

  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent job Al – in your digital absence we have been mortified by this travesty and discussed it here, as well as elsewhere in various comments. Thanks.