On Sept. 11, 2003, the second anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks carried out on American soil, the U.S. justice system struck a blow for public safety by convicting actor and entrepreneur Tommy Chong for selling marijuana paraphernalia over the Internet.
Chong, now age 65, gained fame for the mildly amusing, but mostly dreadful comedies he filmed with sidekick Cheech Marin. Police and Drug Enforcement Administration agents snared him in a sting operation and confiscated a cache of pipes and bongs he sold via the Internet.
A headline-writers dream, the conviction spawned headlines like People Magazine’s: “Chong gets bonged,” and the Pittsburg Post-Gazette’s (a local paper in the city of Chong’s trial): “Tommy Chong Gets the Joint.” Even the usually staid Globe and Mail let loose with: “Chong’s Bongs” on its Web site.
Chong became one of the first victims of “Operation Pipe Dream,” an ambitious program undertaken by the United States Department of Justice to snuff out the billion-dollar drug paraphernalia business.
The conviction suspended his fledgling acting career and plans for another sequel in the Cheech and Chong movie franchise went up in smoke. A judge slapped him with a $20,000 fine and sentenced him to nine-months in prison.
Down the road in Shanksville, Pa., where rebellious passengers overran hijackers, crashing their doomed flight into the tranquil countryside two-years ago, mourners gathered to remember the terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people.
While zealous drug warriors doggedly pursued the star of such cult classics as Up in Smoke and Still Smoking for supplying dope smokers with paraphernalia, Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and his confederates remained unpunished and unaccounted for.
At first glance Tommy Chong and Osama bin Laden share little in common except for unruly facial hair and gaining notoriety on the same date in different years. But the intimate connection between the War on Drugs and the more recent War on Terrorism dates back decades.
As syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum explained in a Reason magazine column published during the dark days following Sept. 11, 2001:
“Prohibition delivers to armed thugs around the world a handy stream of revenue. Every dollar spent intercepting cocaine, heroin, or marijuana is a dollar that could be spent intercepting bombs.”
While President George W. Bush asked the U.S. Congress for $87 million to prop up nation building efforts in Iraq, he and his drug-fighting predecessors hand their enemies a steady stream cash generated in a black market of illicit drugs at home and abroad. The United Nations pegged the worldwide drug trade’s value at $400 billion.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, the Shining Path in Peru, Hezbollah in the Middle East and FARC in Colombia, traffic drugs to finance their nefarious activities.
Prior to the NATO bombing of Kosovo, the KLA smuggled much of Europe’s heroin into the continent.
Australian officials recently seized a massive cache of heroin from a North Korean ship near Australian waters. Besides weapons, North Korean Kim Jong-il bankrolls his economically-backward state with drug smuggling and other black market enterprises.
Even the Mounties reported in 2002 that hashish smuggled from Afghanistan and sold in Canada funded terror activities abroad to the tune of $20 million.
The DEA changed its anti-drug advertising recently to reflect the fact that drugs fund terrorism. It aired a series of highly emotional ads starring thrill-seeking kids admitting to dirty deeds like killing judges and blowing up buildings by simply messing around with recreational drugs.
The ads depart from its previous attempts at tapping a nobler sense of self-respect or intellect in America’s youth. Past slogans included: “Winners don’t do drugs,” former first lady Nancy Reagan’s infamous, “Just say no!” and the often parodied, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs,” which featured and egg (representing your brain) frying in a hot skillet.
While the DEA fingers drug users for America’s woes with terrorism, four fingers point back at an agency caught in a 30 year War on Drugs, which has destroyed lives, swelled the U.S. prison population and thrown entire nations into turmoil.
Tommy Chong will rot in a federal lockup, one of 600,000 drug offenders incarcerated in America’s overflowing jails.
According to Timothy Lynch, a CATO Institute researcher, in a Washington Post column titled: “Population Bomb Behind Bars,” the U.S. prison population doubled from one to two million inmates over the past 25 years. The increased incarceration of non-violent drug offenders fueled the boom.
Instead of kneecapping terrorists and diminishing the prospects of another Sept. 11 magnitude attack by ending the war on drugs, U.S. drug warriors soldier on and protect society by locking up pathetic, but harmless people like Tommy Chong and his pot-smoking ilk.
Tommy Chong’s going to prison; is America safer?
Published in the Reflector.