By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“We’d hoped he’d get house arrest,” Precious says, “and joked about what exactly that would change, because my dad is such a homebody. He’s always puttering or doing woodwork.”
But Mary Houghton and Mary Beth Buchanan, who delivered the government’s colloquy at the hearing when Chong pleaded guilty, had other ideas.
Chong, Houghton contended, had become wealthy by “glamorizing the illegal use and distribution of marijuana and trivializing law-enforcement efforts to combat drug use.” (Houghton did not respond to repeated interview requests.)
After she finished, Chong got his nine months, forfeited more than $103,000 and will be placed on one year’s probation upon his release. He said nothing after receiving the sentence, then was given a few weeks to get his affairs in order. The date was September 11.
The sentence shocked Tommy Chong’s family and acquaintances.
“There was zero anticipation that there would be any time served here,” says family friend Jim Kalmenson, a KRLA radio DJ and general manager of Spanish-language station KWKW. “I had thought nothing serious was going to come of this, that it would be great publicity for Tommy and something good would come from this.”
In fact, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur J. Schwab’s concerns for Chong parlaying the case into positive PR for upcoming projects caused him to ask the entertainer under oath if he’d planned to profit by his arrest and incarceration. Schwab and prosecutors had apparently been irked by glib comments Chong had made to officers during the raid and to the press afterward — particularly about using the experience in his act and future autobiography and film.
“This isn’t normal at all,” attorney Levenson says of Schwab’s query about Chong’s plans. He is worried about how his client’s negative answer may be used against him in the future.
To his family, the government clearly confused their suspect with his stoned-out screen persona. “They don’t know the difference between Tommy Chong and Man,” Shelby says.
Perhaps, though, it is a case of the Bush administration confusing the present with the 1960s, an era whose rebellious legacy it seems obsessed with obliterating. To Ashcroft and other Puritan Republicans, Tommy Chong’s prosecution is merely another skirmish in their implacable war against the 20th century. In this climate it becomes almost pointless to talk about the drug-war hypocrisy of a White House whose mortgage is owned by pharmaceutical monopolies. Or of the reverential treatment given the Oxy-popping Rush Limbaugh by neo-McCarthyites like Bill O’Reilly, who lyingly told a Jay Leno audience that Tommy Chong had been arrested 18 times.
The word most used by Paris and Precious Chong to describe their father’s ordeal is “surreal.” “They couldn’t have picked a kinder, more generous person to throw in jail than my father,” Paris says. Today the family remains afraid of what the Justice Department might yet do to their father, and it is plain from speaking to them that they fear being quoted as saying anything that might antagonize it. “I don’t want to say anything against the government because I don’t want anything to happen to my children,” says Shelby. In a strange twist of fate, the Chongs have become an example for every American family in this new age of conformity.
“Growing up, I’d always had this fear that our family wasn’t like everyone else,” says Precious Chong, “and that we’d be punished for it someday — and then this happened. My parents never locked their doors. They do now.”
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