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Chong Backed by Tokin' Resistance

Discussion in 'Legalization and Activism' started by RMJL, Jan 21, 2004.

  1. Chong Backed by Tokin' Resistance By Joanna Glasner
    Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,61964,00.html

    02:00 AM Jan. 20, 2004 PT

    At first glance, Tommy Chong seems woefully miscast in the role of martyr.

    The comedian, who rose to fame in the '70s and '80s, is renowned for, more than anything else, playing a bumbling pot smoker as half of the moviemaking team Cheech and Chong. More recently, he played off that image with a glass pipe and bong business, Nice Dreams Enterprises; an advertising campaign for a contraption to foil drug tests; and a recurring role on the Fox sitcom That '70s Show.

    But ever since Sept. 11, when a federal judge sentenced Chong to nine months in prison for selling illegal drug paraphernalia, the 65-year-old funnyman has found himself cast in a new part. As the "Free Tommy Chong" movement gains momentum online and off, the star has emerged as celebrity poster child for the pot-legalization movement.

    Over the past three months, dozens of protest sites and petition drives aiming to free Chong have cropped up across the Net. Peddlers of Chong-themed T-shirts and decals have proliferated.

    While many Chong supporters doubt the attention will do anything to reduce his sentence, they say the case is doing much to draw attention to a broader cause.

    "Tommy Chong is the most identifiable stereotype of a marijuana smoker on the face of the planet," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. "Because so many people know who he is, he is a symbol. And the government chose to foolishly make him a remarkable martyr."

    St. Pierre, who agreed to publicize the case at the request of the Chong family, credits the Internet for making activists aware of the sentencing. An e-mail campaign that asks Chong supporters to urge federal representatives and Attorney General John Ashcroft to reform marijuana sentencing laws generated 17,000 responses in its first week, far more than NORML had anticipated.

    The TV comedy circuit has also contributed, St. Pierre said, citing a snippet from a Jay Leno monologue critical of the Chong sentencing.

    But the movement has made perhaps its biggest splash online, where a multitude of discussion sites, including FreeTommyChong.org, FreeTommyChong.net, NORML's Tommy Chong page and numerous weblogs, post opinionated prose on the justice of the sentencing.

    Postings, as one might expect, lean to the wacky side. There are the lyrics to the "Free Tommy Chong" song, along with "The Tommy Chong Bong Song." Activists drum up ideas to publicize their cause, including one suggestion that marijuana-legalization proponents mail one item of paraphernalia to the president on April 20, the date set aside by pot smokers to celebrate their habit.

    As with all Internet causes, petitions are omnipresent as well. At least half a dozen sites are currently collecting virtual signatures demanding Chong's early release.

    Others complain of a perceived double standard in law enforcement, targeting paraphernalia merchants more for who they are than what they sell.

    "I can say that the fact that my local Wal-Mart is selling rolling paper, tobacco pipes and cigarette-rolling machines at the same time they went after Tommy Chong for selling bongs makes this entire situation something I label hypocrisy," said the creator of FreeTommyChong.net, who revealed only his first name, Greg. He registered the site shortly after hearing about Chong's arrest on TV.

    Alana Kimberly, co-owner of the screen-printing shop Anticonformity, a seller of Free Chong shirts and hats, groused that the Chong arrest also made for a bad business decision.

    "Tommy Chong's business was a tax-paying business, which employed many people," she said. "Just because (his product) can be used to smoke marijuana doesn't mean it should be outlawed."

    Tell that to the Department of Justice. Although Chong is by far the highest-profile defendant, his business was actually one of more than 50 shut down last year under a Justice Department crackdown code-named "Operation Pipe Dreams." According to St. Pierre, most defendants had to pay fines of a few thousand dollars, serve home detention or both. Chong, who got a nine-month sentence at the federal pen in Taft, California, plus a $20,000 fine, received the stiffest penalty, St. Pierre said.

    According to NORML, the Operation Pipe Dreams arrests marked the first federal enforcement effort invoking a 1994 Supreme Court ruling that set a standard for classifying illegal drug paraphernalia. The standard, which relies in large part on the way an item is labeled and marketed, makes it illegal for a merchant to sell a product designed for use with an illegal substance.

    Following last year's arrests, many glassware sellers either closed up shop voluntarily or moved their sites overseas in an attempt to evade the long arm of the law. A search for bongs on eBay, which has prohibited paraphernalia sales since 1999, for example, came up almost empty-handed. The few sellers that emerged were mostly based in England.

    Other merchants, St. Pierre noted, were able to get around the rule by labeling their pipes "for tobacco use only."

    But Chong, given his image as America's most famous pot smoker, had no such luck, St. Pierre said.

    "If you're Tommy Chong and you've cultivated this image, and these are the places you've advertised ... gee, what do you think the products were used for?"

    http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,61964,00.html/wn_ascii
     



  2. Did anyone post that suggestion here? LOL! I'd like to thing we're included in that "multitude of discussion sites." :)
     

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