The one downside of being an expert on smoking pot is that sometimes you enjoy yourself so much you forget there's been a warrant out for your arrest for an entire year. Just ask Bong Rip, Orange County's most colorful medical marijuana activist and the founder, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist behind the "hit after hit" musical phenomenon called "Marijuana: The Band."
On Aug. 19, 2005, Bong Rip—he prefers that we not use his real name—was driving his limo in Huntington Beach when police pulled him over for speeding. An officer smelled a heavy odor of marijuana coming from a backpack, and quickly spotted two marijuana pipes in plain view. A subsequent search of the car turned up several baggies of weed and "concentrated marijuana"—that's cop-speak for hashish—and a poster decorated with a self-portrait of Bong Rip smoking a bong and a telephone number called the "Bong Line."
Bong Rip flashed the cops a card saying he was entitled to smoke marijuana as a medical patient under state law. But based on the amount of drugs in the car, the fact that it was divided into small baggies, and the poster—which also mentioned "buds" and "pot parties"—Huntington Beach police arrested Rip and cited him for possession of 85.6 grams of marijuana for sale and possession of 9.4 grams of concentrated cannabis.
Amazingly—unless you factor in a yearlong haze of pot smoking—Bong Rip apparently thought his case had been dismissed last December. He only discovered otherwise a few weeks ago, when he found out he was actually a wanted man. A court docket shows that on Dec. 7, 2005—a day that will live in infamy—the Orange County district attorney's office filed charges against him and issued a felony warrant for his arrest. The next day, a judge set Bong Rip's bail at $25,000.
All this apparently happened without Bong Rip's knowledge. A source with the DA's office said Bong Rip faces a preliminary hearing on Jan. 22.
In a Dec. 11 interview outside the West Courthouse in Westminster, Bong Rip said he'd recently discovered there had been a warrant for his arrest issued a year earlier. He claimed he'd never been notified otherwise, and thought his lawyer had successfully fought the original charges. "I never got mail one," he said. "They lied about the amount in the bags. It was less than one ounce. They claim the poster is evidence that I sell drugs, but when people call the number, I just give them references for doctors who write prescriptions. I'm an activist."
This isn't the first time Bong Rip's activism has made headlines. In June 2004, the band placed an advertisement in the Weekly for a June 5 "pot party" at the Liquid Den in Huntington Beach. The ad instructed fans to "Bring Your Best Pot to Smoke With the Band!!!" When club owner Jim Cline saw the ad, he immediately canceled the show (see Ellen Griley's "Clubbed!" June 11, 2004). That didn't stop Huntington Beach Police Chief Kenneth Small from sending Cline a June 8 letter threatening to shut down his club.
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"This type of promotion will not be tolerated in the city of Huntington Beach," Small wrote. "If you continue to promote or advertise the use of illegal substances, such as marijuana, you will subject yourself, your [alcohol] license, your entertainment permit and your business license to criminal and administrative action. By allowing your place of business to be used as a place where illegal drugs are used and/or encouraging patrons to bring or use illegal drugs, you may also subject your establishment to forfeiture laws."
After receiving Small's letter, Liquid Den banned the band, but the club ended up closing later that year. Meanwhile, Bong Rip continued to proselytize the benefits of bong-related merriment in his Weekly advertisements. His efforts earned him inclusion in the Weekly's list of Scariest People in 2004, and this year, he got his own cover story (see "Being Bong, Aug. 31). In that article—a good eight months after he became a wanted man—Bong Rip asserted his right to smoke marijuana in his limo.
You could forgive Bong Rip for being embarrassed about his arrest warrant, given that it happened a year ago and he's only now become aware of it. But what's truly embarrassing is the fact that his own website contains advice on avoiding exactly such irksome situations. "OK all my fellow stoners, friends and family," Rip instructs. "I am going to share the secrets of smuggling your weed on a plane, through the mail, and while driving a car. First things first. The weed needs to be in a smell proof container. . . . If you have baggies, please use a turkey bad [sic] to hide smell. If you get pulled over . . . kiss the cops ass so he will feel easy and relaxed. Become his friend and you will have a better chance . . . Be smart if you drive with weed."