Tommy Chong, godfather of ganja, chats about his signature marijuana strain, Chong Star
Tommy Chong is nothing short of an ageless stoner.
Sure, over the past decade or so Chong has battled graying hair and prostate cancer, reunited with Cheech Marin after years of bad blood, and served a nine-month stint in a federal prison. At 76 years old, the mellow half of Cheech and Chong is beginning to feel the full effects of a life well lived.
Yet Chong still talks and acts and thinks no differently than the character he played in “Up in Smoke” and “Nice Dreams.” Marijuana remains a constant, even when Chong isn’t smoking: After pleading guilty to a drug charge in 2003 – federal prosecutors linked him to a bong company, fittingly named Nice Dreams – he made the difficult decision to quit cold turkey, with no cannabis of any sort for three years.
For Chong, the pot-free stint was half mandated, half personal statement: If he can say no to a bowl, anyone can. And rather than back away from his pothead persona following a drug conviction, he embraced it fully – right in time for legal marijuana to enter the picture.
These days, Chong has a signature strain, Chong Star, grown and sold exclusively by Marisol Therapeutics in Pueblo. His face and name are even on The Chong Roller, a joint roller made by Futurola out of Amsterdam. He may have served time for bongs, but the legitimate cannabis industry is now opening doors he never dreamed would appear.
Rocky Mountain Marijuana recently spoke with Chong from sunny Los Angeles – Cheech and Chong’s stomping grounds in the ‘70s and ‘80s – to hear his thoughts on Chong Star, the future of legal marijuana and why he would’ve been perfectly satisfied as a bong salesman.
Rocky Mountain Marijuana: Let’s start at the top with Chongstar: After decades as a marijuana advocate, how does it feel to have a legal strain with your name on it?
Tommy Chong: It feels really good. It’s unreal, actually. I can’t even believe it myself. It not only feels good, it’s a good strain, too. It has a good taste.
RMMJ: So you would you buy it, even if it weren’t named Chongstar?
Tommy Chong: Absolutely. Well, you know, I’ll buy it if it has my name on it, but I’ll enjoy it no matter what. It has a nice combination of sativa and indica, so it’s not too mellow and not too speedy. But I enjoy everything I smoke, for the most part, even the swag weed. That at least gives you a basis for what’s good and what’s bad. You don’t know what good is until you’ve tried the swag.
RMMJ: Even before legalization, did you hear from growers who wanted to make tribute strains – you know, smokeable odes to your films and lifestyle?
Tommy Chong: No, not at all. Before it was legal, you didn’t talk about it at all. You never knew who was listening.
RMMJ: When it was first released, Chong Star was a medical-only strain. Was that a conscious decision?
Tommy Chong: Yes, absolutely. My belief is that all pot use is medical. You know, even the term “recreation” is used by the military as a medical term. It’s part of R&R, rest and relaxation. It’s good for the mental health. That’s what marijuana does for everybody, whether you smoke a ton or a little. It all has the same effect, mellows you out.
And the greatest thing about pot is that it’s not addictive. It’s voluntary – if you don’t want to smoke pot, you don’t have to. If alcoholics had the same control over their substance, it would be a much better world. It’s the same with heroin or anything: Once you have heroin, you have to use it again. Once you’re a heavy drinker, you have to drink.
RMMJ: In past interviews you’ve even said marijuana helped you overcome the effects of prostate cancer, once you were able to use again. Have you always enjoyed the medical benefits of cannabis, or did you dive deeply into that later in life?
Tommy Chong: It’s funny you should say deeply, because I found the only way to treat prostate cancer with marijuana is to do the oil in a suppository form. I do it all the time still – it’s a constant thing for me.
I haven’t officially checked with the doctors, to the get the numbers on the blood count, but just from feeling my own body it’s worked miracles. I no longer have that feeling that something is wrong with my body. Things really started going south while I was in prison, and when I got out, I got into my other habits, like eating meat and drinking alcohol. I was about to do an HGH thing, a human growth hormone thing, when they found the cancer. That led to a naturopath who helped me figure out how to heal with marijuana and diet and supplements to combat the cancer. I basically healed myself.
RMMJ: You’ve been an advocate for marijuana since the Cheech and Chong films. In “Nice Dreams,” your character even gets free rolling papers for being a paper spokesman. Did you ever imagine you’d be doing the same for a legitimate, regulated industry?
Tommy Chong: I never really thought that far ahead. Well, I was never really an advocate until I went to jail, and when I got out I was put in that position. It wasn’t voluntary by any means – I would’ve been content to be a bong salesman.
I met (American cannabis activist) Jack Herrera and he turned me on to the intelligent side of things. Before that, I half-believed what everyone else believed, that it’s a drug that can lead to harder drugs. But once I started reading and seeing the politics behind what was happening, it changed my mind. And once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. You know how it gets with research.
RMMJ: Then again, you and Cheech were rarely afraid to tackle touchy topics. For you, why is it important to mix comedy and social messages?
Tommy Chong: It’s like doing edibles with a sugar. It’s just the best way to get the medicine to the people. They can digest comedy – it stays with them – and it resonates longer than any sermon. You know, being adamant about a certain thing can be destructive in some ways. It can turn people off. But by being flippant and funny, you don’t present an argument – you present a situation and the argument is in that situation. I mean, we were the only ones back then making movies where the cops were the bad guys and the stoners were the heroes.
RMMJ: And now marijuana is on everyone’s mind. Talk about legalization: Do you think the new marijuana industry is headed in the right direction?
Tommy Chong: (Laughs) It’s like an avalanche, you know? All the people who had the wrong approach and the wrong ideas are now running in front of the avalanche. It will find its own regulation, because you can’t regulate it, to be honest. You can regulate as much as you need to, but that’s really just to organize a way to make sure the product you’re smoking is what it should be. That’s really the only regulation you need.
Beyond that, supply and demand will regulate the market itself. What we’ve done is take away the penalties, because there shouldn’t be any penalties. We have enough no smoking laws to prevent people from spreading fumes to places they shouldn’t be, like a school. We have laws already to regulate human behavior – they’re there, you know? We don’t need any more for pot.
RMMJ: As an old-school marijuana user – one of the originals – is it strange to see marijuana getting so much press and attention?
Tommy Chong: Once the industry gets up and going, like in Colorado, there’s nothing negative I’ve seen. You just look at the numbers – the arrest records, the crime rate, the other negative effects – and they just haven’t happened.
The only negatives I’ve seen are what’s been manufactured. Those are the things we have to clean up, and we will in time. From the beginning, marijuana laws were a very racist way to put brown people and black people into jail. We just need to get out of the way and let people live.
In fact, what we want to do is deregulate, get rid of the DEA and the anti-pot laws and the forfeiture laws. We need to get people out of jail who were put there because of pot. We want to help everyone, from the people who were fooled by it, who don’t know what it’s all about, to the people who were victimized.
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