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Pot Matters: Pardon Tommy Chong

Tommy Chong
Photo by Getty Images

It’s time to petition the White House to give a pardon to Tommy Chong.  Go on, click the link and do it now, then come back and read more about it.

Tommy Chong was arrested on federal charges in 2003 for selling bongs and served a nine-month prison sentence. In court, the prosecutor argued that he “used his public image to promote this crime” and that, in turn, marketed his products to children. The nine-month sentence was part of a plea agreement.

The White House has a web-feature for citizens to file petitions on subjects of interest. If they receive 100,000 signatures in 30 days, the White House will answer the petition. They won’t necessarily grant the required action, but they do take note when enough people sign the petition to get their attention. Chong’s petition raises an issue that deserves the attention of the White House and political leaders.

The issue here is larger than Chong.

The issue is that marijuana laws have been, are and will continue to be a source of injustice. The American public is recognizing this and is changing these laws, often through direct democracy in the form of ballot initiatives. The people convicted in the past under these unjust laws deserve pardons. Chong was sent to prison for nine months for selling bongs. He deserves a pardon.

Here is Chong’s petition:

“This Petition is written to request that Tommy Chong be granted a full Presidential Pardon. We believe this to be fair as first the nature of the offense was neither violent nor the cause of any harm to any person or place. Second, we feel this was done to make an example of Tommy Chong during a period when unfettered persecution took place against those who sought to give adults the choice of whether they wanted to use Cannabis products on a voluntary basis either for medical purposes or recreationally which is now the law in many States and is permissible under the law in other States.

“We respectfully request that Tommy Chong be granted a full Presidential Pardon and submit the signatures of the signees below who agree this to be a fair and just act on their behalf.”

All you have to do to “sign” the petition is provide your email address. The White House computer will then send you an email, in which there is a return link for you to click to confirm that you signed the petition.

However, time is of the essence.

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The petition needs to collect 100,000 signatures by September 24. Chong needs your help to make this happen. Sign the petition, and then circulate this column to your friends and encourage them to sign the petition as well. Use social media, contact your friends, make this happen.

As far as the federal government is concerned, bongs can only be used to smoke cannabis, and that’s enough for them to justify making them illegal. The criminalization of bongs was part of a totalitarian effort during the 1980s to drive aspects of cannabis culture underground. Parents were concerned that retail stores that sold bongs and other smoking devices were popularizing cannabis use; they were visible evidence that prohibition was failing. The idea was to get them out of sight, so that it was easier to pretend that the cannabis community didn’t exist.

As noted in Chong’s petition, he was arrested as an example, as a way of using his celebrity and popularity to make a statement that bongs were not tolerated in the United States. Chong’s arrest was an attempt to intimidate cannabis users and those involved in commerce seeking their business.

Cannabis consumers should support Chong’s petition on its merits, but also in support of a larger issue, as part of a demonstration of support for pardons for all cannabis prisoners. Spread the word.

Last week’s Pot Matters: Pot and Binge Drinking: The Facts on Campus

Written By

Jon Gettman is the Cannabis Policy Director for High Times. Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy, teaching undergraduate criminal justice and graduate level management courses. A long-time contributor to High Times, his research and analytical work has been used by NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, American’s for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations. Jon’s research contributions to the topic of marijuana law reform have included findings on the economic value of domestic marijuana cultivation, attempts to have marijuana rescheduled under federal law and racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates. Serving as NORML’s National Director in the late 1980s, he was instrumental in creating NORML’s activist program.



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