Tommy Chong is a Grammy Award winning comedian, best known for being half of the marijuana centered comedy duo Cheech & Chong. Together with Cheech Marin, Tommy has co-written, directed, and starred in 8 Cheech & Chong films, some of which broke box office records, as well as recorded 9 hit comedy records, many of which were nominated for, or won, awards. He has long been an advocate for the legalization of marijuana, and he sits on the NORML Advisory Board, and is a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture Magazine.
Chong Healed by Medical Marijuana
In 2012 Tommy announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Chong used medical marijuana to treat his cancer. “Well, I, actually, been diagnosed, I’m cancer free as far as the guidelines go, according to the John Hopkins School of Medicine. I don’t have the dangerous cancer anymore. My numbers have dropped below the danger point. To the point where they don’t consider me having cancer,” Chong said. “And I credit that with diet, eating right, no meat, no alcohol, no sugar, and treating my body with huge doses of THC.”
Tommy Chong benefited from California’s medical marijuana law, Prop. 215, which was approved by California voters in 1996. As someone who has experienced the benefits of medical marijuana firsthand, he strongly believes it should be legally available in not only the State of Florida, but across the US and the world. Florida currently has several legalization bills in the state legislature, and Amendment 2, a medical marijuana ballot initiative that is coming up for a vote in November.
“Well Florida is an interesting place in America, because it seems to be the most radical on one end, and yet have the kind of climate that is conducive for marijuana, and marijuana users. We found this out in California, that it has so many medical uses, that we finally passed the Medical Marijuana Compassionate Act. And I think, personally, that everybody that uses marijuana uses it medically. You know, they may call it recreation, you can call it whatever you want, it is a medicine, it does cure a lot of ailments. Its all a real good thing, its a good thing thats happening to America. And Florida, its got the weird political, southern kind of attitude, you know the anti-government bent. But I think everybody agrees that marijuana should be legal everywhere, and it will be legal everywhere,” he said. “It’s inevitable, across the world. It’s like the electric car, it’s going to change everybodys life, it’s inevitable, it’s going to happen.”
Chong is also associated with a new retail marijuana store in Pueblo, CO called Marisol Gardens. While he holds no ownership, title, or interest in any dispensaries or retail marijuana stores, he is still involved with branding and endorsements, with a commitment to the medical aspects of cannabis, while appreciating and supporting the recreational value of the product.
“Legally I’m not an owner of anything, that was a mistake I made when I had the bong company. So, legally I don’t own anything. I’m associated with those people [Marisol], I’m associated with quite a few hemp products, I’m associated with Canna-Saver, which is a coupon company, that helps the people with the sale of cannabis, but legally I don’t even own myself.”
Chong visited and worked for the Marisol Gardens retail store during the first days of Colorado’s legal marijuana sales. “Oh yeah, I was there, actually I was hired by Marisol, when Colorado first went legal. He used me as a draw for his store. We became very good friends, and he wanted to keep me involved in his stores, and I will be, but I’ll do it in such that it won’t give anyone any problems with the legality of it all. I’m in it for the long haul. And by the way I have a son who lives in Boulder, CO and we’re having plans to have him get into the dispensary business. And again, it will all be done legally. If I didn’t learn anything, I learned how to hire a lawyer.”
Marisol Gardens and Kushman Genetics of California are currently developing special strains of marijuana that will be named after Chong. “They are developing them, in fact, there’s a few companies that are going to, they’re going to do a strain for me, and they’re going to do a strain for Cheech, and they’re probably going to do a strain for my son Paris. Marisol is on it already, in fact, I’ll be going back there next month and we’re probably going to be testing it out a little bit.”
During the early 2000’s Chong came into legal trouble when the federal government prosecuted him for selling glass pipes over the internet. Chong became one of the targets of Operation Headhunter and Operation Pipe Dreams, which were conducted between the DEA and local and state law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania. Chong’s son was basically entrapped into shipping pipes into Pennsylvania and a little enforced statute was used to convict Tommy. Chong was the first of over 50 defendants charged in Operations Headhunter and Pipe Dreams to plead guilty. He took a plea bargain and plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia, in exchange for non-prosecution of his wife and son. Nearly all of the other people targeted by Operation Pipe Dreams who were convicted received fines or home detention, but the government was determined to make an example of Chong. The prosecutors were harsher on Chong because of his mockery of the law enforcement efforts to combat drugs. In papers filed with the court, prosecutors said, “The defendant has become wealthy throughout his entertainment career through glamorizing the illegal distribution and use of marijuana,” and that, “Feature films that he made with his longtime partner Cheech Marin, such as ‘Up in Smoke,’ trivialize law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking and use.” He was fined and received 9 months in a federal prison. Additionally, his property was taken from him through the use of asset forfeiture programs. But Chong says he has recovered from his legal and health problems.
“The government seized about a million dollars worth of assets that I had. And they stopped a business that was just on the verge of doing well. And they seized about maybe half a million dollars in cash from my house, and I’ve got no recourse, there’s no way I’m going to get that back. And there’s no way that I really care about it, because it’s their karma, not mine. But I’ve recovered, financially and physically, and spiritually, I’ve recovered, and I’m on a roll now. No cancer, I think I got cancer when I was without my cannabis for three years. Because I had to quit a year before I got sentenced, and then I had to quit the year I was in jail, or the nine months, and then I had to quit the year after because I was on probation, and during the time is when I contracted the prostate cancer. But since then, like I said, I’ve been tested and I’m cancer-free. So everything is working out very well, I’m not the least bit bitter with the government, I’m just very happy, one thing that everybody seems to agree on is that marijuana should be decriminalized, and that it is a medicine. I’m very happy with that.”
Even after Chong’s own legal troubles, the federal government went after the company that was distributing a documentary that was produced about his legal battle in the US v. Chong case. “They raided the company that was distributing a/k/a Tommy Chong, and I think they took about 10,000 copies, they seized them. They just went really crazy, but that was in 03, 04, around there. And that was Ashcroft, George Bush, and the Iraqi War, and so it was a crazy time.”
Cheech & Chong first hit the big screen in 1978’s Up in Smoke, which grossed over $44 million, the 15th highest grossing film of that year. Up in Smoke was followed by the sequels Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie in 1980, Nice Dreams in 1981, Things Are Tough All Over in 1982, and Still Smokin in 1983. Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers, released in 1985, was a departure from stoner comedy and was the last Cheech & Chong movie until last year’s Cheech & Chong the Animated Movie. Finally, a new live action Cheech & Chong movie, featuring new material is in the works. Chong also remains busy doing a podcast with his son Paris, and continues to film movies and television shows.
“Right now, we’re working on one right now. In fact, we’re just waiting to see what movie company is going to pick it up. It’s going to be Cheech & Chong 30 years later, it’s going to be More Smokin’. We had a friend of ours animate some of our records, and that’s done very well, we’ve sold it over the Cheech & Chong website, and we’ve done pretty good there. And I’m also in a movie that’s due to be released very shortly called “It’s Gawd!”, where I play a hippie version of God. And Gerry Brunskill was the director of that project, and right now they’re in the middle of editing and post-production. And my son and I have a podcast that we do, right now we’re on hiatus, but we usually do a weekly show called the Chong & Chong show.”
While Chong says a new comedy album isn’t likely in the future, Chong does plan to keep promoting medical marijuana.
“Probably I’m going to devote more time to the healing aspect of the hemp plant. Like I said, I’ve been involved with these various companies, and a couple of them are into the experimental stage of looking for medicine with low-THC, that seems to be more effective. So I’m going to be devoting the rest of my remaining energies into experimenting with more cannabis.”
For more information on Tommy Chong visit: www.cheechandchong.com