Justice

Tommy Chong Has a Major Request for Pres. Obama Before He Leaves Office

President Barack Obama has recognized that, in many cases, non-violent drug offenders have been punished in ways that don't fit the crime. Tommy Chong, who's been on the receiving end of America's harsh drug laws, agrees — and he wants the president to grant him a pardon for a 2003 charge that put him behind bars.

Tommy Chong

The legalization advocate launched a petition requesting a presidential pardon, which the White House will have to respond to if it receives at least 100,000 signatures. Chong told ATTN: that he's always hoped to be pardoned since he was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of "conspiring to distribute drug paraphernalia" (i.e. bongs) across state lines. His arrest was part of a federal investigation targeting business that sold drug paraphernalia — called "Operation Pipe Dreams" — and Chong spent nine months in prison for the crime.

Chong says the motivation behind the arrest was to make an example out of him.

"Of everybody [the Justice Department] busted, I was the only one that had international recognition, and so they really wanted me," Chong said. "Technically, I wasn't the owner of the bong company — that was my son — and my wife was vulnerable because she wrote a check for my son's company. They told me that if I pled guilty, they wouldn't go after my son or my wife, and so of course I had no choice."

The arrest reflects the ongoing conflict between state and federal marijuana laws in the U.S. While 25 states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, federal law stipulates that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug — the strictest category under the Controlled Substances Act — and so marijuana users and business continue to get caught up in the cross hairs of the criminal justice system.

More than 700,000 people were arrested for marijuana-related charges in 2014, and 88 percent of those arrests were for possession alone. It's uncertain how many of those arrests were for drug paraphernalia, but as ATTN: previously reported, it remains federally illegal to possess or sell paraphernalia, which is defined by the Justice Department as "any equipment that is used to produce, conceal, and consume illicit drugs."

RELATED: How Tommy Chong Became a Marijuana Legalization Advocate