If you were to assemble an Avengers of weed smokers, you’d have some pretty legendary stoners to pick from. You’ve got Snoop Dogg, Rihanna, Willie Nelson, The Game, Kevin Smith, Jim Belushi, Sarah Silverman (with a cameo from her parents), Bob Marley, Woody Harrelson, Rogen, Chainz, Wiz… The list goes on.
But among all of history’s cannabis lovers, two names rise above the rest. Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin.
For many present-day tokers, “Cheech & Chong” served as an introduction to the world of cannabis. Whether you grew up on movies like Up in Smoke or Born in East LA or were introduced to the pair via some other means, maybe Fern Gully or That ’70’s Show, weed and Cheech & Chong just go together. It’s like peanut butter and jelly.
Which makes it even more surprising that the comedy collaborators currently have zero shared presence in the booming legal cannabis industry. Because as solid as both Cheech’s Private Stash and Tommy Chong’s Cannabis are, what the people want is a Cheech & Chong co-branded line. Five Point Holdings (run by Tommy’s son, Paris) definitely seems to think so. The brand recently signed Marin and Chong to a multi-year agreement with shops opening in California, Nevada, Arizona, Illinois, and Washington. These legal dispensaries — which will feature Cheech & Chong movies on loop, film and TV memorabilia, and city-specific decor –are set to open in 2021, beginning with San Francisco and followed shortly by Los Angeles.
To dive deeper into this new project, we chopped it up with Tommy Chong over the phone about the corporatization of cannabis, why it’s taken so long for a Cheech & Chong joint project to hit the weed space, and just how much weed the legend actually smokes. He also shares a pretty damn funny Joni Mitchell anecdote.
How involved are you and Cheech in the curation of the products?
We’re the number one testers. We test all the products, and then we reach out to my wife for sure, and Cheech’s wife to some extent… and all our kids. They’re all connoisseurs. They grew up with the best weed in the world, all of their lives. We have a very close-knit family testing system set up. We’re involved in every stage of this thing, it’s not just lending our names, sitting back, and collecting our money.
Why has it taken this long to do an official Cheech & Chong branded weed? It seems like as soon as dispensaries opened it would’ve been a natural fit.
It was. But the trouble was it was too soon. We had to wait, you don’t want to grab the first one off the assembly line. Let everything play out, that’s what we did. All the greedy entrepreneurs who were just in it for the money, they got burned. They had no eye on consumers, or the product, no respect for the actual plant itself.
We’re like growers, you don’t pick the plant before it’s totally ripe. So we let the industry ripen, the ones that were early fell by the wayside. We had the advantage of seeing what mistakes they made and how we can come in and correct the mistakes. One of the biggest problems was the way the government was trying to overtax and over-regulate everything. Now we’re coming into a point where it’s no longer number one on the radar as far as people trying to make a buck.
Anything good, you have to work at it to make it work for you.
Take us into these new dispensaries, what can we expect?
Each one is going to be [different] according to where it’s at. We’re going to start with San Francisco and LA. What we’re doing is we’re going into Cheech and Chong territory. We could live off our fans in the Southwest, but we have fans all over the world. Our big core audience has always been in California though. Cheech is Chicano, and I’m… Canadian. I can be from anywhere. We go very deep into a family thing in California, so our stores are going to start here. We want to make that distinction. It’s about respecting the product and the people that use it.
Other than Texas, California really was the epicenter of marijuana. That’s where it came through, that’s probably where it was made illegal! When Hearst decided it made you crazy and would kill people. That was a racist law! We’re taking advantage of that and going right for our hardcore fans off the bat. Then we’ll broaden out to places that need us because it is a medicine and it is essential. We’ve proven that with the pandemic. Bars closed, the dispensaries never did. That tells you a lot.
How do you feel about the overall corporatization of cannabis?
It’s a medicine. We’re trying to provide medicine for as many people as we can. If we make a few bucks out of it, great. I know for myself, I’m going to turn my profits into helping people. The last thing I’m going to do is warehouse it offshore. You can do so much with money — I’m only speaking for myself I’m not speaking for Cheech.
The reason Cheech and Chong don’t retire is because we have too many families between us to support, so we gotta keep working.
You’re a legend when it comes to smoking weed, but like other legends — I’m thinking maybe Woody Harrelson or Willie Nelson — you probably don’t smoke as much as people think right?
Oh not at all. Not even close. Up in Smoke was a movie, you know? One of the greatest things about marijuana is that you don’t have to smoke it, it’s not addictive. Not like cigarettes. I remember when I smoked cigarettes, I was addicted. A lot of my energy was spent going on cigarette runs. Marijuana? No. When I got busted I quit smoking for three years, not because I had to — well… in a way I had to, because they were trying to bust me and to make the bust look more palatable, but no, I learned very early that marijuana wasn’t addictive.
The first time I got high, a jazz musician gave me a joint and that joint lasted me a month but after that month there were no more joints. I wouldn’t smoke until I came across it. It was always given to me — I was a music man, people always just say “oh here! Here is a joint!”
Do you have a favorite method of smoking?
I’m a one-hitter. I’ve got a series of pipes I’m looking at right now. I make pipes! Out of bamboo, wood, kombucha bottles, I just found a bottle with Chinese sauce in it, it’s beautiful so I’m going to clean it out. That’s my hobby. I had a bottle collection that I had to get rid of, I had kombucha bottles coming out of everywhere, my family had to put me through an intervention.
When I was growing up there was no toy store, there was no city — I grew up in the country. So whatever toys you had, maybe you’d find a softball or a ball in the gutter, but if you wanted a toy you had to make it. I would make these crude knives and guns, so, eventually, I started carving pipes. I starting looking at bamboo and I’d say “oh this would make a nice pipe.”
I got bamboo growing in my yard, I go and harvest it just to make pipes. I’m trying to work it into how I can do it on an artistic scale but I haven’t come to that realization yet.
Dropping this limited, truly one of a kind artwork – CHONG BONG by @JeromeBaker420 10am pacific time TOMORROW, Saturday morning on my Instagram @ HEYTOMMYCHONG! Portion of the proceeds will go to the @lastprisonerprj pic.twitter.com/REg20qskL6
— Tommy Chong (@tommychong) October 16, 2020
Are you an indica, sativa, or hybrid guy? Or just anything green?
My favorite strain is called marijuana! Or cannabis. I understand what Indica does to you, but because I’m a one toker, it’ll only last for a few hours. Now I’m getting old and this virus is going around so every once and awhile I’ll go “oh no, I feel weird am I getting the virus?” and then I’ll realize “oh, you smoked up, idiot!”
Can you speak on your experience with cannabis in the seventies compared to today?
In the 70s, Cheech and I always liked our weed, but then the cocaine came in. It was short-lived as far as Cheech and I go. Cheech is very health conscious all his life, he was a track star in school. He didn’t indulge too much, the same as me. Cheech was a bit of a lightweight too because he’d smoke up and get really stoned and do stupid things. That’s how we made all the movies.
One time, he was dating Joni Mitchell and we were in Paris at the time shooting a movie, and Joni came to a concert. Cheech had a piece of hash and had no way to smoke it so he ate it. He got so stoned man he couldn’t talk. We’re sitting at a little brasserie with Joni and he’s just very very quiet, usually, he’s Mr. Entertainer. I looked down and realized he never ordered anything to eat.
That’s how stoned he was! He was so stoned he forgot to eat.
What was Joni’s reaction?
Oh, she’s such a sweetheart. She’s Joni! When you go out with those famous people, you’re like an accessory. “Oh yeah, I’m with him.” They get all the attention, I don’t think she even noticed. Cheech will do that. He was in Israel and they’re going to go visit the Wall, and Cheech again ate something he shouldn’t have eaten and he started projectile vomiting in a cab, can you imagine the poor guy? “We’re under attack by these fucking Americans!”
Can you imagine if he did it now with the COVID going around? Oh no. But we’re lightweights both of us, we’re good actors! When we did the records though, we did smoke weed before — but not a lot.
That’s my stupid dog. He’s a racist dog. Ww got Mexicans working here and he’s barking at them. He’s a white poodle, maybe that’s why.
What do you hope to see change in the weed industry going into this next decade?
I get a lot of blowback from everybody, but marijuana is a medicine. All marijuana use is medical no matter how you do it. It changes the composition of your body and that’s why you do it. It affects the brain, the organs, the whole body in a healthy way. It gives bulimics and people with eating disorders an appetite.
You can’t tax medicine. They got a sin tax on marijuana and it’s ridiculous. Everybody will pay a little bit but no one is going to pay too much. It’s overtaxed and over-regulated right now.
This is just me, but it has a phenomenal medical reach. Marijuana was always considered a medicine in ancient times, it was an herb. It was used for various ailments. In China for cancer and menstrual cramps. It wasn’t until the hippies in the 60s started using it and people in the Vietnam war that the government got up in arms about it. You can’t protest when you’re drunk, but when you’re high on pot you can run around and create all sorts of mischief.
I see it evolving. The reason it’s legal is because of a year-old baby with epilepsy. Sanjay Gupta showed the world that epilepsy could be cured with marijuana. You have this weird alcohol mentality, but it’s a racist mentality. All prohibition is racist. When they prohibited alcohol it was because of the Italians, the Germans, and the people from Europe. The Puritans wanted to get rid of that. When prohibition ended, that’s when marijuana prohibition started, you had all these cops with nothing to do so they sent them to chase Mexicans and black people for marijuana.
Look at the jails! They’re filled with marijuana cases! California just expunged records, I’m trying to get my time expunged too. I had a chance to get pardoned from Obama but I turned it down because I didn’t want to be pardoned for something that shouldn’t be a crime. It didn’t seem right.
In the future, I see it as being treated more like medicine. Just like any drug store, a dispensary should be able to operate the same way. That’s my hope.