Associated Press, Oct. 9, 2003: “Actor-comedian Tommy Chong reported to Taft Correctional Institute near Bakersfield to serve his nine-month sentence for conspiring to sell bongs.... Chong is the first person to be prosecuted under John Ashcroft's ‘Operation Headhunter,' which resulted in the indictment of over 55 people nationwide.”
Before I begin with this week's rant, I am going to pull a big fat ripper from my bong in honor of Tommy Chong—whose very freedom was taken out back and shot in the head by John Ashcroft on the grounds of some bullshit, prohibitive morality rap.
Ahh, the sweet, sweet sound of skunk-filled bubbles percolating in a freshly-changed water pipe and exhaled in a cloud of defiance. We're smoking for freedom now, baby!
My brother bought me this bong for my birthday. It's a real beaut. I won't name the gifted glass maker who blew it, for fear that Ashcroft and those jack-booted thugs at Operation Headhunter might barge through his door and smash all the glass. Suffice to say, it is not from either Seedless or Zong-two local water-pipe sellers who were also caught in the Ashcroft sweep.
Aside from the prison sentence, Chong was fined $20,000, made to forfeit $103,000 in revenue and forced to dismantle the “Chong Glass” website and business-free enterprise being yet another victim of Ashcroft's overzealous spree.
Incidentally, one of Chong's bongs is called “The Cheech.”
Cheech and Chong were the second greatest comedy team of all time. I listened to all their records and adored 1978's Up in Smoke-the father of all stoner movies-which was about bungling potheads trying to evade bungling cops.
Chong and his lawyer say that during the trial, the government used Chong's characters against him. Indeed. At sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Houghton confirmed this when she reportedly said, “Tommy Chong grew wealthy glamorizing drug use and trivializing law enforcement in his films.”
Firstly, it's unbelievable to me that, 25 years after Up in Smoke was released, cops are still ticked off about that movie. And now they are finally getting revenge. It's your classic self-fulfilling prophecy: Law enforcement is offended by a movie that portrays them as feeble and fascist. So they go after the writer of that movie, which is a feeble, fascist thing to do—giving more fodder for future filmmakers to film films about what feeble, fascist, futilitarians law enforcement officers can be.
Cheech had this to say about Chong's sentence: “These are the same kinds of simpletons we were fighting when we made [Up in Smoke]. I feel like I'm stuck in one of my own movies.”
So do I, Cheech. And if we are stuck in a Cheech and Chong movie, I guess that makes John Ashcroft the new Sergeant Stedenko, roaming the country, hunting down evil stoners.
Secondly, Tommy Chong's characters didn't “glamorize” potheads. He mocked them. He portrayed stoners to be as stupid and bumbling as the police-types who were also caricatured. I mean, who could forget the “Waiting for Dave” sketch, which opens with the phone ringing and Chong picking it up to hear Cheech on the other end nervously whispering, “Hey man, whatever you do, don't answer the phone, man, because I think the phone is bugged,” and Chong on the other end responding in that classic loud, proud, stupid, stoner drawl, “Is that you, Dave? Did you get the drugs, man?”
It's called satire, Ms. Houghton; perhaps you've heard of it?
(Satire, incidentally, has been gleefully killed off by the office of the U.S. Attorney.)
Consider the nefarious code name. “Operation Headhunter”: A “head” is a stoner, and Sergeant Stedenko Ashcroft is merely hunting them down and decapitating them. Holy Hell Jesus shit and crap, the code names for our freaking actual wars are kinder and gentler than the one for the war on stoners: “Operation Desert Storm” sounds like a weather anomaly by comparison. Operation Iraqi Freedom conjures the image of Iraqis dancing in the street-oh so grateful to not have heat or electricity, and nothing but poop-water plopping out of their faucets. But the war on bong sellers? Well, some heads are really gonna roll!
And isn't arresting someone for selling a water pipe, because it might be used to smoke marijuana, tantamount to arresting another for selling matches because they might be used to light it? Sounds far too much like thought-policing to me.
Which is why I want everyone to know—every truck driver who ever fought back sleep as he drove lonely through the middle of the night, every dishwasher who gazed blankly at nothing as he cleared the bones and gristle from another spent dinner plate, every grade-school teacher who graded book reports on a Saturday night while her friends danced at Club Happy Happy, every grocery clerk working the picket line, fighting to hang on to what little they already barely don't nearly have, every search-and-rescue hump that has lowered himself from a helicopter by wire into the flood zone to pull someone out of the current, every bartender who got down on his knees to reach for that last bottle of St. Pauli Girl all the way in the back, back, back of the bottom, bottom shelf—I want them all to know that, for all their hard work and long hours, their lives are not their own anymore; that as long as self-important morality police like Sergeant Stedenko can hunt them down and destroy them at will; as long as Tommy Chong and thousands like him sit in prison, there is just no freaking justice for freaking anyone any freaking more.
Visit www.FreeTommyChong.org. Support Zong and Seedless (www.seedless clothing.com)-they need your help. Buy shirts, hats, whatever.