Pubdate: Wed, 14 May 2003
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2003 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Robert Baird


His business is up in smoke, but comedian Tommy Chong was all smiles 
Tuesday outside federal court after admitting that he and the California 
company that bears his name sold illegal drug paraphernalia over the Internet.

Chong, who partnered with Cheech Marin in a string of films about two 
ne'er-do-wells who saw the world through a haze of marijuana smoke, was 
released on $20,000 bond after he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy 
to sell and offering for sale drug paraphernalia.

The paraphernalia -- glass bongs used for smoking -- were made by his 
family company, Nice Dreams Enterprises of California, which does business 
as Chong Glass.

Chong waived indictment on the charge, which grew out of an investigation 
by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the office of U.S. 
Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan into the distribution of drug paraphernalia at 
"head shops" in western Pennsylvania and across the country.

Federal agents in December had purchased several bongs and pipes from Chong 
Glass. The paraphernalia were shipped to the government's undercover 
location -- called Thompson Novelties in Beaver Falls, Beaver County.

Chong's guilty plea yesterday at the Downtown courthouse marked the first 
time in more than a decade that any manufacturer of drug paraphernalia has 
been prosecuted, Buchanan said.

Chong, of Pacific Palisades, Calif., seemed more interested in talking 
about his next movie rather than his crime. He could be sentenced up to a 
year in prison, home confinement or probation.

"Cheech and I are back together," Chong, 64, told a throng of reporters and 
photographers on Grant Street. "We're doing another movie, and some of this 
will be in the movie, especially what happened to me."

Pressed for the story, he said: "Buy a ticket to the movie. That will tell 
you everything."

Asked whether he would change his comedy routine and eliminate material 
about drug use, Chong said: "Not really. I just tell the truth."

Chong then said he should let his lawyers do the talking, adding, with a 
smile: "I said too much already. So I take it all back."

Chong and his company pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Arthur 
Schwab, who set sentencing for Sept. 11.

In addition to a possible prison term, Chong could be ordered to pay a 
$250,000 fine. His company could be fined $500,000.

"With the advent of the Internet, the illegal drug-paraphernalia industry 
is now readily available in the home of anyone who has a computer or 
Internet access," Buchanan said yesterday. "My office is aggressively 
prosecuting the distributors of drug paraphernalia and eliminating their 
Web sites. These case are excellent examples of that effort."

Buchanan said Chong has sold bongs with such names as "Tijuana," "Cheech," 
"Big Bamboo," "Bombay" and "Babe." Each had Chong's face on it.

She said "Bombay" sold for $230 and was described as "too big for me, but 
you heavy hitters will definitely enjoy."

Buchanan said Chong, who headed for a performance last night in Florida, 
tends to promote drug use with his comedy routine. Cheech and Chong movies 
- -- such as "Up in Smoke," "Still Smokin' " and "Far Out Man" -- have 
attracted a cult following since the pair teamed up in the late 1970s.

"I think that there has been a culture in the United States in which 
entertainers have portrayed drug use as something that's acceptable and, in 
fact, desirable," she said, "Unfortunately, our youth are influenced by 
those types of statements."

Chong's attorney, Richard Hirsch of Santa Monica, Calif., said: "Mr. Chong 
has devoted his entire career to comedy and satire. He has come forward at 
the earliest possible time and accepted responsibility for this matter. 
He's very anxious to get back to his real job -- which is that of making 
people laugh."

Hirsch said the Web site warns minors not to use it, and that the company 
"in no way promoted the sale (of paraphernalia) to minors."

Pittsburgh attorney Stanton Levenson, who represented Chong's company, said 
Nice Dreams -- also the name of a Cheech and Chong movie -- went out of 
business after federal agents raided it Feb. 24.

Under the terms of a plea agreement, Chong agreed to forfeit $28,514 seized 
during the raid and to pay an additional $75,000 before his sentencing.

Chong also agreed to forfeit the Web-site name, all drug paraphernalia and 
bank balances representing proceeds of the offense.

Chong had appeared at retail outlets where bongs, pipes and other 
paraphernalia were sold. He also had posed with customers and had signed 

In December, law enforcement officers bought two bongs at a store in Texas. 
They also received Chong's autograph on the bongs and a t-shirt depicting 
Chong smoking one.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth