Comedian Tommy Chong has felt the sting of the Bush administration’s war on all things related to marijuana. For Chong, the nightmare began in February 2003, when police helicopters and a bunch of agents with dogs launched an early-morning raid on his suburban Los Angeles home.
In the acclaimed documentary a/k/a Tommy Chong, Chong says the cops first told him he wasn’t under arrest. In fact, they were busting his Internet bong-selling business as part of a massive U.S. government crackdown called Operation Pipe Dreams. After U.S. drug agents tricked staff at the family company into shipping bongs illegally to Pennsylvania, Chong pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute drug paraphernalia in order to spare his son and wife from prosecution. He was sentenced to nine months in jail on the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“The ultimate aim was to bring me down,” Chong says in the film, which explores how U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan tried to link Chong’s film and comedy work to drug abuse in America. That attracted outrage from civil libertarians, who claimed this violated Chong’s constitutional right to freedom of speech.
The case turned Chong into a symbol of the absurdity of the war on drugs. In a recent interview with Straight contributor Guy MacPherson, Chong said that he was operating in a “gray area, much like Marc Emery is now”, because of an archaic law. Chong noted that Barack Obama’s vice-presidential candidate, Joe Biden, wrote the law that banned shipping drug paraphernalia through the mail. Despite this, Chong expressed optimism that he will clear his record as a result of the U.S. presidential election.
“The first thing I’m gonna do when Obama gets sworn in is get my record expunged—my felony conviction,” Chong said. “There’s a way to do it. What you do [is] change your plea from guilty to innocent, and if they accept the plea”¦then they just wipe it off and say, ”˜Okay, you’re no longer a felon.’ ”
Vancouver pot-seed vendor Emery, on the other hand, isn’t feeling nearly as optimistic about Obama’s election. That’s because Obama appears set to appoint Eric Holder as attorney general. Holder, like Biden, has been a supporter of the war on drugs and also served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.
During the first three years of the Clinton administration, 1.5 million Americans were arrested on marijuana charges. By 1999, that increased to 4.2 million. “It was the largest increase ever, and this guy was the deputy attorney general at the time,” Emery said.
He and his two Vancouver coaccused, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, face charges of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, conspiracy to sell seeds, and conspiracy to launder money, in an indictment filed in Seattle in 2005. Emery said the U.S. government is claiming that by sending seeds to U.S. citizens, he entered into a conspiracy with the buyers to grow marijuana. “On [The] Lou Dobbs [Show], for example—we have the footage—they said I was the largest producer of marijuana in the history of the U.S. justice system,” he said. “They’re attributing me with 1.1 million pounds of marijuana—100,000 pounds a year.”
As for the money-laundering charge, Emery alleged that profits went to charities and activist groups. “So the money-laundering is actually all of the political stuff I did that I’m kind of proud of,” he quipped.
The extradition hearing is scheduled to start next June in B.C. Supreme Court. Emery claimed that MPs could pass a resolution ordering Attorney General Rob Nicholson not to extradite the trio. Emery emphasized that under the Extradition Act, Nicholson can intervene in the process at any time and state that Canada will not send him to the United States. “What I would recommend is they charge me in Canada with what they want to charge in the United States, and we’ll see what a judge here thinks about that,” Emery said.