Chong and Wecht form an unlikely alliance against Buchanan


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Two icons of days gone by -- one an expert in everything from pharmaceuticals to the law, the other a former coroner -- joined forces Wednesday to send Mary Beth Buchanan's political career up in smoke.

Tommy Chong, the perennially stoned hipster of Cheech and Chong fame, and Cyril H. Wecht, the perennially incensed pathologist of cut-and-thrust fame, took the stage at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall on the South Side for a comic fundraiser for the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

Each man paid an acerbic homage to the woman who prosecuted them, former U.S. Attorney Buchanan who, in Mr. Chong's case, sent her quarry to prison for nine months in 2003.

"When I got to prison, the first thing they did was make me take a drug education course. Man, I was the first in line every day. I wanted to learn about drugs," Mr. Chong said.

He was, of course, disappointed. Counselors in prison told him marijuana was dangerous.

Nonsense, he replied.

"It's the only drug where when you take a hit, your first impulse is to give it to somebody," he said.

If Cheech and Chong were joined at the brain by a long, aromatic strand of hemp, Chong and Cyril had the common bond of wishing Mary Beth Buchanan a bad electoral trip.

Dr. Wecht was prosecuted by Ms. Buchanan on an array of corruption charges. One trial ended in a hung jury. A second trial was abandoned after a judge threw out crucial evidence and Ms. Buchanan had to drop the charges.

Mr. Chong pleaded guilty after he was ensnared in a government sting designed to prosecute the makers of drug paraphernalia. Mr. Chong's family firm made high-end glass bongs suitable for a variety of smokeable products but ordinarily used for just one.

Mr. Chong said he returned to Pittsburgh, "to thank her for jump-starting my career again."

His thanks included calling Ms. Buchanan "a liar and a thief."

Dr. Wecht, whose one-liners tend to run longer than some prison sentences, had his own choice offerings, including "that vicious, horrible woman."

Last night, Mike Walsh, Ms. Buchanan's campaign manager, issued a statement dismissing the criticism and tying Mr. Chong to her electoral opponent, U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.

"If all the drug users and convicted felons line up behind Jason Altmire while the law-abiding citizens of the 4th District stand with Mary Beth Buchanan, that will be all right with her," Mr. Walsh said.

Visiting Mellon Square for a lunchtime news conference earlier Wednesday, the men spoke politics.

Each thinks the Democrats are kindly souls and the Republicans akin to those flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. They talked drugs, which offered a singular moment in the annals of awkward. Mr. Chong noted that he has smoked marijuana since he was 18 and is now 72 and in the very pink of health, physically and morally.

"It helps you forget your problems," he said of pot. It also keeps a man honest, "because when you lie, you have to remember."

Dr. Wecht owned up that he has not tested this theory because he has not tested marijuana. In fact, he had to ask a reporter what a bong is.

A native of Calgary, Canada, Mr. Chong said he escaped deportation by sheer luck. In 1988, he said, he was invited by the American government, along with a number of other celebrities, to accept citizenship.

"Otherwise," he said, "we'd be doing this interview in Canada."

How did he celebrate?

"I went out and started a bong company," he said, grinning.


Dennis B. Roddy: droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965. First Published May 6, 2010 4:00 AM


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