Saturday, August 21, 2010

Transcript of my interview with Tommy Chong and pot activist, Mesha Irizarry on Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox




Cindy Sheehan: Welcome back to Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox. I'm your host, Cindy Sheehan. Today is a super duper edition of Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox as we explore the topic of marijuana rights with two activists. One is one of the most famous pot activists of all time, Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame. Tommy will be on in a few minutes, but our first guests is Mesha Irizarry, who has done local work for pot rights on the San Francisco Marijuana Offenses Oversight Committee, MOOC. Mesha also lost her son, Idriss Stelley, to blue-on-brown cop violence several years ago.

Mesha, welcome to Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox.

Mesha Irizarry: Thank you so much, Cindy.

Cindy Sheehan: It's great to finally have you on. As I was telling my listeners, you do a lot of work for justice and social justice in San Francisco, my old town. When I ran against Nancy Pelosi in 2008, you were also a supporter of my campaign and we were really grateful for that.

Mesha Izirarry: ________ It's a great honor and privilege to be on your show today. Yeah, I'm on the Marijuana Offenses Over You Committee in San Francisco since September '08 that enforces and money to the lowest priority ordinance for SFPD because ever since June '07, the police here in San Francisco is not supposed to arrest, detain, admonish or send to incarceration people who are smoking marijuana, whether or not they are medical patients. Just for marijuana as a first offense. Actually, you know, this is one of the most secret, most hidden law, in the city.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Mesha Izirarry: That everybody actually can smoke weed on the streets as long as they are 20 feet away from a public building, and people can have on them up to 1/8 of an ounce of dry weed as long as it's not packaged individually for sale. And people can grow up to 25 plants, in separate pots so that they don't germinate with each other, at home for their own consumption. I don't even smoke the stuff, Cindy.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Mesha Izirarry: It's just that I believe in defending people's rights.

Cindy Sheehan: Even if you have a card or a prescription, if you don't have a card or a prescription you can smoke...

Mesha Izirarry: That's right. I mean that law, the lowest priority ordinance, is in place not only for medical prescriptions, but what we used to call recreational uses, or adult uses as we call them now.

Cindy Sheehan: Well that explains a lot to me with some people I know that have said, "Wow, a cop walked right by me or a cop drove right by me when I was smoking weed and they didn't do anything.

Mesha Izirarry: Exactly. Exactly, Cindy.

Cindy Sheehan: I know San Francisco is a very friendly city. I mean, my office was right next to a dispensary. But we still do have federal agents raiding our dispensaries, don't we?

Mesha Izirarry: Then hopefully this is setting, you know, is a pilot project that is setting up the model for the country. But the police have been cooperating with the lowest priority ordinance up to a point. Ever since Gascon became the Chief of Police in San Francisco – my own belief is that Gascon is a federal, was imposed by the feds, because they just raided Dennis Peron. Dennis Peron is a marijuana activist in San Francisco.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Mesha Izirarry: So, you know, we collect citizen complaints, or residents' complaints, about violations of the lowest priority ordinance perpetrated by the San Francisco Police Department, and we help people get ________ attorneys to win their case.

Cindy Sheehan: So you're like a go-between between the community and the police department?

Mesha Izirarry: Right.

Cindy Sheehan: Right. How can people get ________

Mesha Izirarry: You also know Greg Ledbetter, who is a part of Axis of Love with Shona Gochenaur, and we are both co-chairs of the Black and Brown Just Drug Policy, which is a cannabis justice entity, and ________ cannabis that's addressing the racial disparity between white people and poor people of color when it comes to drug enforcement. And I must say that LEAP – I don't know if you would have believed this, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Jack Cole is the national director. They have been challenging that disparity for the longest time. So we do have ________ within law enforcement to challenge how racist and how classist the war on drug is.

Cindy Sheehan: Right. Well, I mean, that's -- the whole law enforcement community, as you well know, is very biased against black and brown people, unfortunately. Tell my listeners what you think about Proposition 19 in California.

Mesha Izirarry: Yes. Well, that is being pushed by Tom Ammiano, and I think that it's definitely going to pass.

Cindy Sheehan: You think it's really going to pass?

Mesha Izirarry: And I'm also in favor of seeing taxation of marijuana, taxation of the growers, and encouraging them to start cooperatives to provide the dispensaries with medical marijuana and to be taxed. Oakland took the lead on this. All the cooperatives in Oakland have accepted to be taxable. And we need to follow their lead.

Cindy Sheehan: And of course it will, I think it will help the community. And my next guest, Tommy Chong, you know, we're going to talk about hemp too and about how hemp can save the world.

Mesha Izirarry: Yes. Yes.

Cindy Sheehan: So we're all ________ about it on Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox.

Mesha Izirarry: It is enough already with the mad reefer, you know, mythology. We all know that people who smoke weed do not commit violent crimes, okay?

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Mesha Izirarry: The violent crimes that are drug-related usually link people to cocaine, to methamphetamine, but not to weed. So enough of that already. If alcohol is legal, and that is doing way more relative than weed, it is time already to not only decriminalize but legalize weed. We have a formidable ally in San Francisco in James Keys, who I don't know if you met James, Cindy, who has been supportive of Axis of Love and legalization of marijuana for the longest time. He is the chair of the Board of Mental Health in San Francisco and he's running for District 6 as a candidate Supervisor. And he's right along with us pushing for legalization.

Cindy Sheehan: And I saw that Chris Daly, who's coming out, actually just endorsed James Keys to take the lead.

Mesha Izirarry: Yes, he just endorsed it. He's just endorsed him yesterday. He well be I tell you the first black male elected, not appointed, but elected at the Board of Supervisors in the history of San Francisco, so you know we have a powerful ally with them.

Cindy Sheehan: Wow. So Mesha, we're unfortunately out of time.

Mesha Izirarry: Okay, bye-bye Cindy.

Cindy Sheehan: Okay, bye-bye Mesha.

That was our guest, Mesha Irizarry. Stay tuned. Our next guest is Tommy Chong.

PEDRO: Hey man. Am I driving okay?

MAN STONER: I think we're parked, man.

Cindy Sheehan: Of course that clip was from Cheech and Chong's seminal stoner movie, Up in Smoke. Tommy Chong is not just a brilliant comedian, musician and actor, he has spent a lifetime advocating for pot rights. He did nine months in federal private prison for illegal persecution from the Bush administration. His legal problems are detailed in a great documentary called AKA Tommy Chong.

Welcome to Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox.

Tommy Chong: Well, thank you, Cindy, and it's nice being here.

Cindy Sheehan: I'm sure you hear this a thousand times a day, but I just want to let you know how much you've meant in my life for a long, long time. You know, from making us laugh to showing us what an example of integrity and bravery that you showed when you were persecuted by the U.S. government.

Tommy Chong: Well, it was the least I could do, you know, for all the joy I had from the money we made, you know, making fun of them. [laughs] It was no problem.

Cindy Sheehan: [laughs] Well, that's one thing. You know, I am taking a principled stand against paying my income taxes because I don't want to pay for what, you know, the U.S. is doing around the world. I don't want to pay for the war machine. I paid for it my whole life and, you know, I feel like I contributed to the death of my son and so many other people in the world, so I've just stopped paying. You know, make a principled stand against what our government does. So you know, that – the same thing that happened to you could happen to me in the future. And I saw your movie, AKA Tommy Chong, and you really handled in really a very amazing way. Can you tell my listeners who might not know what happened to you – I'm sure all my listeners do – but explain what happened to you when you were persecuted by the – really the Bush administration persecuted you.

Tommy Chong: Yeah, well, what happened, the Bush people were in the beginning stages of getting support for their attack on Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And they needed two things. They needed to quiet, do a preemptive strike against the antiwar protestors, which they anticipated would be, you know, coming out full force against their policies in Iraq and in the Middle East, period.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And so, in the meantime, you know, I'm a pot activist, or a pot comedian to begin with, and Cheech and Chong, you know, we've been around for since – we started in 1971 with our records, and so our views on the ridiculous nature of the drug laws were well known, well documented, and ignored for the most part by the government. But when Bush started his warmongering, they needed to deflect, you know, the public's attention. And so what they did, they came up with this Operation Pipe Dreams, which was a preemptive attack on the glass water pipe industry, which was growing huge. It was getting very big.

Cindy Sheehan: And you were involved in a company with your son.

Tommy Chong: Yeah. Yeah, well, what I did, what – you know, making a long story even longer, I, my son – no, when we were on the road, my wife and I were doing comedy, and we were finding that people were bootlegging, you know, bongs made with my name on it, you know, Chong Bongs.

Cindy Sheehan: [laughs]

Tommy Chong: And so my wife and decided, well, you know, hey, this would be a good business for my son to get into. He was looking for something. And so he started a bong business using my name. And it was legal. You know, everything totally legal, above-board. You know we had licenses, you know, from the city, from the state, you know, to operate our glass business. But when the Bush people came in, they found a loophole in the law which was a paraphernalia law, which was really designed for crack pipe users, for people using methamphetamine. Which, by the way, that was a little way of getting around, you know, public sentiment, you know, because everybody's against, you know, heroin.

Cindy Sheehan: Right. Right.

Tommy Chong: They're against amphetamine. But marijuana, because it's a, you know, it's a medicine, you know, and proven to be an effective medicine, you know the Bush and everybody else like to lump everything together so they can use a methamphetamine law to come after the marijuana users, which they did. And that's what they did with me.

Cindy Sheehan: What an ironic name for a president that's going after marijuana advocates, right?


Tommy Chong: Yeah, well, you know, I mean, Bush himself, you know, he really was a recovered addict.

Cindy Sheehan: Yep, yep.

Tommy Chong: You know, a recovered alcoholic, and in his case pot really was a gateway drug, you know?

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: Whether he used it or not, you know? But he was more of a coke head. But, more than anything, what the Bush people did, you know, by coming after me the way they did – because, what they found out is that they had no legal recourse with me. I had not broken any law. In fact, all I did was, you know, exercise my free speech right and my second amendm– not my second but my free speech, you know, right to free speech and expression. And because I didn't, you know, physically own anything. I didn't own the bong company. You know, I didn't make the glass. I just represented them. And so what they did, they came after my son and my wife, because my wife had signed the check for the business, and so that implicated her, and then my son, you know the business was in his name, which implicated him. And so they threatened both my son and my wife with significant jail time if I didn't plead guilty and perjure myself. And so I did. I pled guilty. I perjured myself, you know, because I had to swear in front of a judge, a federal judge, which is very ironic, because most federal convictions now are for lying to federal officials.

Cindy Sheehan: Amazing.

Tommy Chong: I mean here's a representative of the court forcing me to perjure myself, forcing me to lie. Because when he said, he said I had to – you know, they listed off a series of charges and I had to plead guilty to them.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And when they said that, you know, "You are the owner, the sole owner –" This is what they said: "You are the sole owner of the enterprise Nice Dreams." And I automatically said, "No, that's not true." And so they had to stop the proceedings, and then they had a little meeting, and then my lawyer sit up and says, "Your honor, yes, he changes that line to that yes, he is the sole owner of this establishment." And it was the weirdest thing. And then they promised me that I wouldn't get any jail time. And they lied. [laughs]

Cindy Sheehan: Well, yeah, because you spent – how long did you spend there in prison?

Tommy Chong: They sentenced me to nine months in the federal lockup.

Cindy Sheehan: And if – I'd just like to really recommend the movie about this, a documentary called AKA Tommy Chong, because it really goes into a lot more depth about your story, and that's where I found my inspiration was watching that movie, because you did, you really made the best out of a bad situation, and that is ________.

Tommy Chong: What I did, what I did – well, you know, I just retreated when I found myself facing the inevitable, which was jail time, because what happens, you know, the lawyers always give you hope. You know, they always give you this – by the way, defense lawyers, their main job is to give you an excuse of why you shouldn't be in there. That's about it.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: You know, to give you an excuse of what to say while you're incarcerated, you know? And so what I did, I immediately – well I looked at it like I'm a writer, I'm being embedded with the troops.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And that's what I call my– because I am a writer. I wrote a book, I wrote two books while I was in there, and, you know, we did the film. But what I did, you know what I did, Cindy, that was – I really, I got into the I Ching, you know, the Book of Changes.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And I started reading all sorts of relig– or spiritual books, and Buddhism. I studied all the religions. And I really connected with my, you know, my real self. And so I used it as a retreat, like a religious retreat. You know, I just even told myself that I'm here, you know, and now I've got a chance to really, to really just get into myself, you know, not worry about anybody else. I just had to get, you know, get into where I was and, you know, to really ask myself a lot of questions about what I was doing and what, you know, what's going on in the world. And it really helped me. It really helped me. And it – and I helped other people that I was there with.

Cindy Sheehan: Right. That's for sure.

Tommy Chong: That's just what was really good about it.

Cindy Sheehan: Well, I've just spent, you know, I've been arrested about 14 or 15 times now. The longest I've ever spent in jail is 52 hours, and I even counted the hours, and it was miserable. But you do also connect with people who have been persecuted and oppressed for so long here that, you know, in the world, in this nation, it makes you have an appreciation for what, you know, the oppressed classes have been going through for so long.

Tommy Chong: Yeah. Yeah. You really understand it. You know the first thing you do, when you're driving – you know, if you haven't been to prison, you avoid, I notice people avoid people that have, you know, fallen on hard times, you know. Like when you're driving by and you see the prisoners out working on the road with the orange jumpsuit, you know, I found myself looking away.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: Like I don't want to be painted with the same brush.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: You know, that was before. And then when you go to prisons, or when you drive by prisons, you tend to look at the uniform. You don't tend to look at the face or to see the person behind, you know, in that uniform, or in that, you know, that costume. And so what happens, when you do end up behind bars, you change. And you become one of them. And then you really see how little you count. You know, and that's what they do. They dehumanize you. That's what the government wants to do with their opponents. You know, because that's what they're doing. You know, they're not jailing criminals.

Cindy Sheehan: No, absolutely not.

Tommy Chong: They're just jailing their opponents. It's all a political hustle for these guys.

Cindy Sheehan: Well we know that the prison industrial complex is almost comparable to the military industrial complex and very connected in this country, and most of the people who are in, you know, populating our prisons, are in there for marijuana convictions. And the government spent 12 million dollars on this project to –

Tommy Chong: Twelve million, yeah. Twelve million. I mean and that's just a drop in the bucket...

Cindy Sheehan: Right, oh, absolutely!

Tommy Chong: ...compared to what they spend. And the thing is, you know what people don't realize is that the prison I was in was privately owned.

Cindy Sheehan: Oh, so it was –

Tommy Chong: Privately owned. There's a security company called Wackenhut.

Cindy Sheehan: Oh yes. I'm familiar.

Tommy Chong: It's owned, I think the headquarters is in Denmark or Germany. And then the jail I was in, it was once owned by Wackenhut, and then they changed the name I think twice when I was in there. It was called Geo now, G-E-O. And the reason they do that is to avoid lawsuits. So you've got no recourse. And once you get in the system, you're not even, you're not – the federal government pays these guys to run their prisons for them.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And so you're not even in a federal – you're not even being watched by, like, your government. You think you are, but you're not. It's a privately owned business that saves money if they feed you inferior food, that saves money if they don't give the prisoners proper medical or, you know, education. So it, it's such a scam, you know.

Cindy Sheehan: Well, and profit is the motive, and in California at least we used to have where, you know, rehabilitation was the goal, but now it's punitive. It's strictly punitive.

Tommy Chong: Yep.

Cindy Sheehan: And so there's a high rate of reciv– how do you say that, recidivism?

Tommy Chong: Yeah. Yeah.

Cindy Sheehan: In our prison system. But let's talk about, speaking of California – you know, I'm a Californian, and we do have a proposition coming up on November's ballot, Prop 19, to legalize marijuana, but actually to give local governments power of taxation and regulation and things like that. What are your views on Proposition 19?

Tommy Chong: Well, I, you know, personally, you know, the more laws you can get rid of, you know, the better.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And the thing is, you know, the government will try to, you know, tax it or whatever. But, you know, you got to remember that marijuana is a weed. It grows anywhere for anybody under any circumstances. And so once they legalize it and take away the criminal penalties for possession and cultivation, then we're going to see an industry blossom that's going to save the world. So I really like the fact that we're getting it legalized.

Cindy Sheehan: Well, we have a situation here in California too that we do have laws on the books that it's legal to use for compassionate uses and it is medicine, like you said, but many people who get their prescriptions are still persecuted by the federal government. Doctors, dispensaries.

Tommy Chong: Yeah, because on one hand they say it's legal statewide, but then the federal says it's still a Schedule One narcotic which has no medical value whatsoever. And it also allows – you see, it's a worldwide epidemic that the government has got themselves into. You know, wars have been created -- and by the way, it's the oil companies that's behind all of this.

Cindy Sheehan: Right. Right.

Tommy Chong: You know, starting with the DuPont Petrol Industry that wanted the hemp rope and the hemp fabric off the market so that they could have a clear market, you know, to manufacture and sell their plastic products.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And so that really was the genesis to get pot illegal to begin with. You know, to get the hemp plant, which is the marijuana plant.

Cindy Sheehan: Right, right.

Tommy Chong: And then the side thing, you know, for the government was the fact that people like to be intoxicated, you know? [laughs] You know, like they like to drink their beer. They like to, you know – Prohibition didn't work, and then the marijuana. Then they demonized marijuana, you know, which was hemp or cannabis, and they call it marijuana so they could demonize it and make it a racial issue, which they did. And which they still do. And that's the problem with the law the way it is. So, getting back to the original question, because I know there are people, you know, pro-pot people that don't want it legal. They don't want it legal. You know, they're trying to say that the government or the big businesses will take over. Well, good! You know, at least they'll be selling something that's helping the public, you know, instead of poisoning the public.

Cindy Sheehan: But I live in Oakland.

Tommy Chong: You know what the greatest thing about pot is, Cindy? Is that you don't have to smoke it.

Cindy Sheehan: Right!

Tommy Chong: You don't have to take it. If you don't want it, if you don't like it, for any reason, you don't have to take it. Where it's cigarettes, you get addicted. Alcohol, you get addicted. Painkillers, you get addicted. You know, anything, opium-based medicine, you get addicted. Marijuana, nonaddicting.

Cindy Sheehan: Well, I'm all for either, you know, decriminalization, legalization. Like you said, hemp can save the world. It can be an energy. You know, we can use it for clean energy instead of the fossil fuels that are destroying ________

Tommy Chong: Some times, some times, 7 to 1, the ratio, is – you know, it produces seven times for every energy, you get seven times back. Corn, you get four times, it's 4 to 1. Yeah, marijuana or hemp, 7 to 1.

Cindy Sheehan: Corn is not a good fuel. It's not a good replacement for fuel, because it's food. People need to eat it. They don't need to be putting it in their gas tanks.

Tommy Chong: Yeah. Yeah. And burning things. But the thing is, what we're going to do, what we're looking at now is electricity. You know, plug-in cars are going to take over the world.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Tommy Chong: And so hemp, hemp has to take over where the plastics failed. Because the plastic plants, they got huge plastic plants all over the country that's killing people.

Cindy Sheehan: Exactly.

Tommy Chong: You know, polluting the environment and killing people. For a substance to wrap your food in. I mean, it's ridiculous. You know, the amount of energy that they spend producing plastic, which kills people! And use the same energy, less energy, to produce hemp, and you're saving people. But there's a Biblical saying...

Cindy Sheehan: Well, we know that but – there's a what?

Tommy Chong: ...Cindy, that you have to remember. There's a Biblical saying that's coming true, it says "The meek shall inherit the earth."

Cindy Sheehan: Well, I hope – it's about time. Because the robber class has been running it for way too long now.

Tommy Chong: Yep. Yeah. And the thing is, it's like Hitler's regime. You know, Hitler only lasted, what, ten years? If that, you know. And the last few years, he was on the run, you know. So the Bush and all the rest of those people, you know, they're history. I mean, you can see it right now, you know. I mean, their big guns are Sarah Palin. You know?

Cindy Sheehan: Well, unfortunately the policies still continue, so we still have to keep our work going to have a sustainable future for our children and our grandchildren that we were talking about before we started this show. But unfortunately we're out of time, Tommy.

Tommy Chong: Okay, babe.

Cindy Sheehan: And I'm very honored that you came on the show, and I want to encourage my listeners to check out the film, AKA Tommy Chong. Is there something else that they can go to to get more information about what we've been talking about?

Tommy Chong: is up, and my own profile, Tommy Chong. So any of the Chongs, you get us.

Cindy Sheehan: Oh, well thank you so much for your lifelong work and for keeping at it, and really for your dignity in the face of such adversity. We really appreciate it.

Tommy Chong: And call me any time if you need something, babe.

Cindy Sheehan: Oh! Awesome! Well, we'll work on these things together.

Tommy Chong: Take care.

Cindy Sheehan: We'll talk to you soon, Tommy.

That was our very special guest, Tommy Chong. I hope you enjoyed this week's show. I know I did. As always, I'd like to thank my engineer, Scott Petty, my webmaster Rich Bowser, my producer Mikey, my guests, and you for listening.

HOWARD BEALE: I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. A dollar buys a nickel's worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. We sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes. But is that's the way it's supposed to be? We know things are bad, worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms, let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone. Just leave us alone." Well I'm not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad. I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad! You've got to say, "I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value!" I want you to get up now. I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Just get up from your chairs, right now. Go stick your head out and yell and keep yelling, "I'm as mad as hell! I'm not going to take this anymore!" Just get up from your chairs.


There's yelling in that room.


I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!

I'm mad as hell! I'm not going to take it anymore!

I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!

I'm not going to take it anymore!

I'm mad as hell!

I'm mad as hell!

I'm not going to take this anymore!

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!

I'm - as - mad - as - hell


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