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Naked City

Weed Watch: Smoke Glass, Not Grass?

By Jordan Smith, September 19, 2003, News

On Sept. 11, Tommy Chong, of the legendary duo Cheech and Chong, appeared in federal district court in Pennsylvania, where he was sentenced to nine months in federal prison and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine for selling glass pipes and bongs over the Internet. Chong was one of more than 50 people that the feds, led by assistant U.S. attorneys in Pennsylvania and Iowa, rounded up and charged with distribution of drug paraphernalia during a February sting code-named Operation Pipe Dreams.

Chong pled guilty in May to selling 7,500 bongs and pipes through his Los Angeles-based company Nice Dreams Enterprises; during their Feb. 24 raid, agents seized the company's inventory and more than $103,000 in cash. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice have been ridiculed for the raid, which critics decry as a waste of law-enforcement time and resources.

"As long as the politics are as they are, there is no answer for this [kind of enforcement action] except that it is a feckless waste of money designed to maintain the status quo," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws. St. Pierre points out that Operation Pipe Dreams was run by "Ashcroft wannabes" in conservative jurisdictions, who "are very much aspiring to make a name for themselves"; federal law enforcers in other, more liberal locales (like California, where Chong lives and Nice Dreams is based) "took a pass" on participating in the operation. So investigators bought the glass products and had them shipped to the heartland to make certain they had "established the proper nexus and jurisdiction" to effectively prosecute the cases.

In an era where Ashcroft's DOJ is supposedly all about combating terrorism, the Pipe Dreams crackdown appears even more absurd; perhaps the ultimate irony was Chong's sentencing date -- Sept. 11. Says St. Pierre: "Is that the most serious thing we've got to worry about?" (More on this story -- including Naked City's conversation with Tommy Chong -- next week.)

At the other end of the pipe: At press time, lawyers representing the Hemp Industries Association were set to appear before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, to argue that the Drug Enforcement Administration's bid to ban the sale of hemp food products is a misinterpretation of the Controlled Substances Act. Since October 2001, the DEA has sought to ban the sale of veggie burgers, nondairy cheeses, and other foods containing hemp seeds or oil because they contain trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. (Ironically, the DEA has not sought to ban products containing poppy seeds -- like bagels and muffins -- even though they typically contain higher trace amounts of opiates.)

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