Tommy Chong released from prison
Pot comedian and stoner icon Tommy Chong of the classic Cheech and Chong movies was released from the Taft Correctional Facility in California on July 7, 2004.
As we reported back in September 2003, Tommy Chong was sent to prison for nine months, had to pay a fine of $20,000, and was forced to forfeit $120,000 in assets after being busted for selling mail order bongs (CC#47, Tommy Chong goes to jail).
Chong's business, Nice Dreams, was investigated during the Operation Pipe Dreams witch-hunt (CC#43, Bong shops under attack!). Federal agents in Pittsburgh ? one of only two states which consider bongs themselves to be illegal ? ordered his bongs over the Internet, snaring the stoner star.
Back in the spotlight
Two days after being released, Chong made a national TV appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, during which he made light of his prison experience and enjoyed a visit from his long-time collaborator and friend, Cheech Marin.
On the show, Jay Leno asked Chong to "explain the crime," as the talk-show host had a hard time understanding why Chong was arrested.
Chong laughingly replied, "It's illegal to sell, manufacture, have in your possession and especially to send across a state line ? anything that looks like it could be used for smoking pot."
Leno then asked for clarification, "Okay, but a water pipe, I mean certain religions use these and I mean, a water pipe itself is not illegal, is it?"
"No," answered Chong, "but if it has my face on it, it is."
Leno then joked, "Oh, you didn't say your face was on it ? well, geez, why didn't you get the electric chair for that?"
Leno inquired as to why Chong would have been busted for selling a bong when anyone could easily buy one off the street. Chong explained that a bong with his picture on it was ordered over the internet and then "sent to Pennsylvania to a little headshop run by the DEA."
Leno pointed out the questionable legality of the arrest by asking, "They've asked you to send it, isn't that entrapment?"
Chong humorously answered, "Yeah, but this is America? there's no such thing as entrapment anymore."
Just like a movie
Chong then described the bizarre experience of being raided, how the police "came running in the house and they're running around with flashlights and they're running with their guns, they're running from room to room, you know, just running. It was weird, they're going, 'clear' and ? I really said this too, I said, 'If you're looking for the light switch, it's over there.'
"But, they finally got around to it and I said, 'what's going on?' And they said, 'we'll tell you in a minute.' Then my wife came downstairs and she said, 'what's going on?' and then she said, 'wow, this is just like a movie!'
"Then the guy goes, 'This is not a movie.' And so now when they bust Hollywood celebrities, that's what they gotta yell, 'This is not a movie!'"
Leno declared that Chong's case "is especially disturbing," because arresting Chong because he had a bong would be like arresting Leno for owning a fast car. Just because a tool has the potential to be used for a crime, it does not mean that the person who possesses it is automatically a criminal.
When Leno asked Chong to describe his experience behind bars, the funnyman responded with typical humor, saying, "Federal time was hell, man. There was like a two-hour wait for the tennis courts."
Chong then explained prison life more seriously, saying, "It was camp humiliation, what they do. They strip all your soul away from you, they try to humiliate you. A lot of strip searches."
Chong described his cell as a dorm with "a row of bathrooms on one side and metal bunks... and they're narrow and you get a thin little mattress." He describes what inmates call "waterfront property" as the row of bunks nearest the toilets.
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong will be doing another film together, titled Dis-Jointed, which is expected to enter production in late 2004.
In the movie, characters Pedro and Man invent a hair restoration marijuana lotion, but can't remember which pot they used to make the formula. So the stoners embark on a road trip, testing and smoking many crops of cannabis, trying to find the type they used. Meanwhile, they are chased by cops and pharmaceutical companies.
Tommy Chong's most recent stoner role, before he was taken to jail, was as Leo on That 70's Show. Unfortunately, that fan-favorite character is now gone. Leo did not appear in the 2003-04 season, and Chong's lawyers explained that it was because of the bong-selling charges against him that Chong's character was dropped from the show.
Whatever Tommy Chong decides to do in the future, let's hope he stays out of jail, and continues with his unique brand of stoner humor for years to come.