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Operation Pipe Dream: 10 Years Later

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Alamy
Alamy

This month marks the 10th anniversary of an event that holds quite the historical significance to lovers of glass smoking devices all across the globe. I am referring to the United States governments nationwide investigation of the illegal sale of drug paraphernalia conducted in 2003 code-named Operation Pipe Dream.

It was 6:00 a.m. on February 24th, 2003 when one of the most renowned glass blowers in the business and former owner/operator of Jerome Baker Glass, Jason Harris, was rudely awakened from his slumber by a loud thrashing on his front door.

"I woke up at 6:00 a.m. in the morning with someone banging on my door and saw the massive amount of police and army people at my house," Jason explains. "I got hogtied and arrested and I didn't actually know what was going on until I got to the jail cell and was watching T.V. in jail and realized there was a much larger issue than I was aware of."

What Jason was made conscious of was the fact that Operation Pipe Dream was in full effect and he wasn't the only one being targeted. In fact, a total of 55 individuals including the marijuana icon Tommy Chong would be ensnared in one of the most ineffective, politically motivated actions in the history of government.

On that historic February morning numerous businesses and homes were ransacked as a result of the operation and the above mentioned 55 individuals were named in prosecutions and indicted with trafficking of unlawful drug paraphernalia.

But out of those 55 persons involved in the raids only one would experience incarceration: Tommy Chong.

It seems the government's motivation for incarcerating Tommy was to set an example for cannabis consumers nationwide, almost as if to say "Checkmate stoners, we have captured your King!"

They charged Tommy for his part in financing and promoting Chong Glass Works/Nice Dreams, California-based companies that were generated by his son Paris. Chong Glass Works/Nice Dreams specialized in producing high-end bongs as collectible works of art and in its heyday employed 25 glass blowers that would produce up to 100 pipes in one day.

In a plea bargain, Tommy agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia in exchange for non-prosecution of his wife, Shelby, and his son, Paris. As a result, on September 11th, 2003 the "King of Stoners" was sentenced to nine months in a federal prison, a fine of $20,000, forfeiture of $103,000, and a year of probation.

The Federal prosecution admitted after the fact to being stricter on Tommy in vengeance, referring to his and Cheech's movies as trivializing "law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking and use."

The final total of revenue necessary to fund this federal fiasco was a whopping $12 million which included the resources of 2,000 law enforcement officers.

So were these actions by the feds anything more than a self-serving political strategy? Not according to former intelligence research specialist for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) member, Sean Dunagan.

"Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I mean there's no questions that it was political and in fact if you read the court filings by the prosecutor in that case they make a reference to Tommy Chong's career and naming some of this movies that were mocking U.S. anti-drug efforts." Sean avowed. "Yes, it was clearly political and looking at it broadly that was exactly the case. It's not by accident that he was the only one out of 55 defendants that had to go to jail."

Although Jason Harris wasn't incarcerated, he too feels that he was favored by the feds to serve as an example to the rest of the drug paraphernalia industry.

"I have been singled out to make a political statement with the United States Justice System," Jason declared. "I have a completely sideways take on it because I had the biggest company in the business and now I'm not allowed to have any company in the business."

So other than the initial impact it had on the 55 individuals involved and the handful of companies that were banished or ruined, was Operation Pipe Dream successful?

"No. The initial impact was really limited to one company (Dream Works)," Sean proclaims. "I know there are other glass blowers and shops that went out of business as a result of it but it was really misguided. I mean the notion that you're going to stop drug use by going after a company or really if they had the resources and the inclination to go after every company." And Sean goes on to say, "You don't need a pipe to smoke marijuana; obviously papers or a crushed up coke can or all kinds of things will work. So the idea that this would have any impact whatsoever is ridiculous."

If we were to judge the success of Operation Pipe Dream by its impact on today's drug paraphernalia businesses, I would have to say it was a complete and utter waste time and revenue considering the industry's prevalence, and our LEAP representative couldn't agree more.

"It was tremendous waste of money, a tremendous waste of resources that had no impact. It was blatantly targeted prosecution made for political purposes," Sean confirmed.

Now that the investigation is 10 years behind us, how has it affected those companies that are in business today? Are they even conscious of the fact that there activities are federally illegal?

"Glass manufactures now? Half of them aren't even aware that it is illegal what they are doing and it is against the federal law," Jason claims. "It is against federal law to manufacture water bongs or pipes that you can smoke marijuana out of."

Another question that doesn't seem to be posed in terms of cannabis legalization is the legality of possessing and using a smoking implement, or as it's technically known, drug paraphernalia.

The United States now has 18 states including the District of Columbia that have implemented medical cannabis laws with Washington and Colorado having legalized recreational cannabis for adults over 21. So how are the qualified patients and legal-aged adults in these states consuming their cannabis, are they making small bonfires in ashtrays and hovering over them while inhaling?

Of course not, but if you live in Washington state it's probably the safest form of consumption from a legal standpoint. As of right now the laws in Washington couldn't make any less sense in terms of cannabis being so called "legal" if you were to compare it to their drug paraphernalia laws.

Washington's new recreational cannabis law allows adults over 21 to possess and consume up to an ounce of cannabis without fear of fine or imprisonment. Pretty sweet, right?

Yeah it is, just don't get caught possessing an implement in which to consume your stash because that is considered a misdemeanor and will land you a mandatory 24 hours in jail with the possibility of up to 90 days of incarceration and you will also have to shell-out a minimum of $1,000 fine.

That ashtray bonfire doesn't sound so bad now does it?

We can only hope these regressive drug laws and futile self-serving political displays put on by the cast of bureaucratic ignoramuses' that run our country will eventually receive the restructuring in which they so seriously deserve.

It is investigations such as Operation Pipe Dream that gives proof to the fact that our current drug laws are not only antiquated, but a direct attack on our nation's inhabitants.

Get involved on a grass roots level and be a part of history in the making as we bring an end to this antediluvian war on otherwise law abiding citizens of a supposedly free country.