THE BLOG
09/07/2006 02:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pipe Dreams vs. Nice Dreams

Jonathan Shapiro is a writer and executive producer of the Fox TV series, Justice. He reviewed Tommy Chong's book, The I Chong: Meditations From the Joint, for the Los Angeles Times. Shapiro wrote:

"Being incarcerated for resisting imperial power or because of one's sexual preference or getting sent to the gulag for dissenting opinions are searing human tragedies that inspired brave acts of artistic resistance. Selling bongs over state lines just doesn't carry the same moral weight."

Hey, Jonny boy, whoa! You'd better buy a new state-of-the-art apocryphal scale if you're going to measure for comparison the moral weight of prison sentences.

On February 24, 2003, Tommy Chong was among 55 people who were arrested in raids across the country as a culmination of the DEA's Operation Pipe Dreams. Agents forced their way through the door of his home that morning, with automatic weapons drawn. Chong was the only one who served time--nine months at a federal prison--and paid a $20,000 fine, not to mention the $103,000 that was seized when he got busted.

The reason he became an exception and received such punishment was precisely because of his "dissenting opinions" and "artistic resistance." It simply would not have happened otherwise.

They wanted to get him really bad. Traditionally, local law enforcement has discretion to decide what priority should be given to prosecuting cases involving drug paraphernalia. Because both Pennsyvania and Ohio make that a top priority, the DEA chose to open a decoy head shop in Pennsylvania. Four times in one year, these stingmeisters tried to make an online purchase of a pipe autographed by Chong, but Nice Dreams Enterprises would not fill any orders coming from either of those two states.

However, a request from a different return address easily passed through the apparently fake firewall of a new employee. In an appearance at the Peppertree Bookstore in Palm Springs, California, Chong said that the employee had been infiltrated into his company. I wanted to know how Chong knew that. He responded that it was a very strong suspicion, based on the fact that the employee left the company a couple of days before the bust, with no reason.

In a deal with the authorities, Chong agreed to plead guilty in exchange for his wife and son not being indicted. Ironically, he was sentenced on September 11, 2003, the second anniversary of real terrorist attacks, rather than a business run by an actor in such Cheech and Chong movies as Up in Smoke and, more recently, a recurring role on a popular sitcom, That '70s Show, where he continued to play the part of a dedicated pot smoker.

The prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan--ignoring all relevance of the 1st Amendment in favor of her professional career--had the audacity to introduce that fictional character in the courtroom as evidence of Chong's "frivolous" attitude toward the enforcement of drug laws. He said this was "like jailing all of the Police Academy people for making fun of cops."

Furthermore, he had joked with reporters about putting this criminal case in his next movie with Cheech. The prosecution insisted that such a comment indicated that Chong was making light of the case and might exploit it for money.

Chong, 65, half Scottish-Irish, half Chinese, and raised in Canada, points out that, "When I became an American citizen, I took a vow to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Doing anything less than exercising my right of free speech in defense of pot and against its prohibition would be a violation of my vow."

So listen, Jonathan Shapiro, for a future episode of Justice, how about considering a story line revealing the utter injustice of arresting 800,000 individuals every year for the "crime" of possessing marijuana? It may not get you high, but hopefully your consciousness will be raised in the process.