Tommy Chong and the injustice system

Review of a/k/a Tommy Chong written and directed by Josh Gilbert
Rating ****

I finally had a chance to the see the documentary a/k/a Tommy Chong. I say finally because it has been in my Blockbuster queue for over six months. When it comes to documentaries, Blockbuster fails miserably.

After watching this film I finally realized what the topic of my next book is going to be about. I have watched and read so many stories of how the justice system is broken and unfair, that I’d like to write about it in more detail than I can on this blog. Just this week a man was freed from prison after serving 31 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He was feed based on DNA evidence. The appeals courts turned him down three different times. They wouldn’t even hear his case. How long has DNA testing been around?

But for now, I’ll talk about what the justice system did to Tommy Chong. For those of you too young to remember, Tommy was one half of the comedy team Cheech & Chong. They were as big in the early 1970s as anyone in comedy today. I wasn’t a big fan of their movies or comedy albums, but plenty of other people were.

The whole Cheech & Chong schtick was centered around drugs. Their biggest film was called Up in Smoke. Now the story about how the justice system decided that Tommy Chong needed to go to prison no matter how they did it, begins with 911 and John Ashcroft. I don’t need to spell out all of the mistakes that John Ashcroft made while he was Attorney General. He was just one part of the whole Bush team that thought it was okay to torture people. But one of Ashcroft’s big claims to fame was his attempt to tie terrorist activity to drugs and drug paraphernalia. The thought was that drug money supported terrorists, so going after drugs was the same as going after terrorists.

Then comes along a district attorney in Pennsylvania by the name of  Mary Beth Buchanan. She was looking for a case to help advance her career. What she needed was something to draw media attention to her cause. In steps Tommy Chong, someone who sells drug paraphernalia over the Internet, someone who thumbed his nose at the authorities with his pro-drug films. That should do the trick.

But wait. There’s a problem. Tommy doesn’t actually run the company, his son runs it. And they aren’t breaking any laws. There are only a couple of states where it is illegal to sell bongs and similar drug paraphernalia. Pennsylvania happened to be one. Okay Mary Beth says, lets set up a fake head shop and get them to sell us some bongs. Then we can arrest him and put him in prison and I can get promoted.

That was the plan. What they didn’t count on was that Tommy’s son knew the law. He refused to sell product to the fake head shop. He turned down over 150 requests. Finally, someone from the U.S. entrapment team decided to go to LA and buy product there, where it was legal. They bought out the company’s entire stock. The stock was packaged and sitting there taking up space. So finally someone at the company decided to ship the boxes that were taking up space. That was all Mary Beth needed. The next day the factory was raided by swat teams; Tommy Chong’s house was raided. They had their man. Let the media circus begin.

What happened next is even more ridiculous. They threatened to bring charges against Tommy’s son and wife if Tommy didn’t agree to a plea deal. Just say your guilty, Tommy. We won’t charge anyone else but you, and you won’t have to go to jail. Now anyone with any common sense could look at the facts of the case and see that this was a case of entrapment. But this was the federal government. Going up against the government, with their unlimited resources, would have been risky and so expensive that it could have wiped Tommy out for good. Not to mention that his son and wife would have fallen victim to the same injustice system.

So Tommy did the smart thing. The whole thing about you won’t have to go to jail, well we changed our mind. Mary Beth needs you to go to prison so she can further her career. Well guess what Mary Beth. You lose. You made Tommy even more popular. You highlighted the absurdity of the whole endeavour.  And now I get to make fun of you here on the Internet where everyone can read about how you misused your power for your own personal gain.

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