September 24, 2003

Just Say No to Pots

Well, I’ll be darned; it looks like John Ashcroft and his crew finally nabbed a bad guy. In their insatiable effort to weed out terror wherever it may or may not exist, the mighty law enforcement muscle of the United States has eliminated the nefarious pursuits of its number-one domestic terrorist: Chong!

Tommy Chong, the 65-year-old comic legend whose act with Cheech Marin centered on heavy marijuana use, was sentenced to nine months in prison for selling pot paraphernalia on the Internet. Chong’s sentence was handed down on Sept. 11, a date that perfectly illustrates our misplaced priorities.

Chong’s arrest is the latest for the Pittsburgh-based Operation Pipe Dreams, an investigative body with a name funnier than anything Cheech and Chong could ever dream up. The federal government has been down with OPD since 2000. In that time, the operation has rounded up 23 known weed fiends. Or as we call that here in Louisiana, English class.

Isn’t it comforting to know that, following years of round-the-clock investigation and tracking, the most advanced intelligence agency in the world took two years to discover that Chong is associated with marijuana? My guess is that a trip to the record store didn’t factor in this search. OPD could have just asked Cheech and saved all that money. Maybe they’re looking for him too. Weeding out criminals, indeed.

The Feds raided the headquarters of Chong’s thriving business, Nice Dreams Enterprises, in February. Three months later, the comedian (who has an otherwise spotless criminal record) pleaded guilty to selling bongs and other inanimate objects online. This case sets a dangerous precedent: while dealing marijuana has been a felony since the bad old days, the law now seems to state that the selling of pot-themed stuff is on the same level.

As soon as I heard the news, I immediately scoped out my house for any potential drug paraphernalia. I threw away all of my spoons, soda cans and Ziploc bags. I cleared my kitchen cabinet of pots and bowls too, just to be on the safe side. My stovetop? Gone; I might decide to light up a joint in the presence of fire. All faucets have been taken out too, lest I be tempted to pour myself some bong water. When I noticed the box of brownie mix in my pantry, I almost called the police on myself.

It’s bad enough that we have spent the last century wasting so many resources on combating a drug that kills fewer people than cigarettes, beer or cars. Injustices such as mandatory minimum sentences sometimes net casual pot users as much as 30 years in prison, often sharing cell space with violent offenders. And what do we have to show for all of this? The incredible ignorance and misinformation that clouds both sides of the debate and makes the drug tantalizing to young people in the first place. Even a five-year-old can see the irony of airing the “marijuana alters judgment” ads in between ads for Budweiser and Coors Light during the Super Bowl.

How did the Justice Department react to this misstep? By taking another one, of course. Now that law enforcement is stretching its rail-thin resources to combating the heinous bong menace, it looks like stoners will have to revert to making their own paraphernalia out of plastic soda bottles and foil. That might take them as long as two minutes. Thanks, guys; I will sleep better tonight. And by the way, I don’t touch the stuff. Never have.