Tommy Chong remembers the day federal agents raided his glass pipe business, making arrests and smashing bongs along the way.
The 2003 raids, infamously known as Operation Pipe Dream, targeted 54 other individuals in a desperate attempt by the United States government to strike fear into marijuana smokers across the country. Chong became the face of the crackdown, largely due to his celebrity status from popular stoner movies, including “Up In Smoke” with partner Cheech Marin.
“They wanted [to arrest] a celebrity that wasn’t white. They wanted a headline,” Chong, 76, told HuffPost at a New York art gallery, where he was celebrating the launch of a roll-your-own smoke accessory for marijuana lovers.
Chong was convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison — and it did absolutely nothing to stop him from being an advocate for the use of marijuana. Even as he sat and answered questions, Chong passed a fat joint some odd-smelling incense around a small group of people.
While Chong was at the event to promote Futurola, an Amsterdam company that sells a wide variety of smoking paraphernalia, he also spoke at length about the growing marijuana movement, oil pipelines that should be turned into water pipelines and time travel.
“We won, we totally won,” Chong said of the drug war. “And I think [the government needs to] pay us back some money. They took a lot of money from me illegally, money that had nothing to do with bongs. They’re thieves.”
Despite recreational marijuana becoming legal in Colorado and Washington, Chong said the most significant progress will come when federal laws are changed. He implored President Obama to use an executive order to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II.
“Marijuana has never been a priority on [Obama’s] watch, just lip service,” he said. “Marijuana is a death sentence for any politician to get in favor of, because then you’re some crazed hippie.”