By Reid Mukai
Northwest Asian Weekly
Before “Harold and Kumar” there was “Cheech and Chong” a counterculture comedy duo which became hugely successful in the 70s and continue to be discovered by new generations of fans.
Though they’re still working on projects together today, Cheech and Chong were inactive as a comedy team for an extended period of time (between 1985 and 2002). From all accounts, the break-up was the result of a number of factors including creative differences, Cheech wanting to do less drug humor and to break out into a solo career, and possible tensions resulting from the success of their hit single “Born in East LA”, one of the few songs from the duo to have been solely written by only one of them (Cheech). By that time, they had been working together for over 15 years so it wouldn’t be surprising if they’d want to take a break to explore different creative paths.
Though Cheech and Chong are venerated by comedy fans and stoners, Tommy Chong is held in particularly high regard by the marijuana consumer and civil liberties fan bases because of his outspoken advocacy of cannabis legalization. He’s an advisory board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and has credited a hemp oil treatment with the effective curing of his prostate cancer which he announced he had in 2012. Chong also became a rallying figure for the cannabis decriminalization movement when he was imprisoned for selling bongs on the internet in 2003, a story chronicled in the 2006 documentary “AKA Tommy Chong”.
In 2008, Tommy Chong had another run-in with the law when DEA agents raided Spectrum Labs (producer of urine cleansing products endorsed by Chong and a distributor of the documentary about him). They seized company records and 8,000-10,000 copies of “AKA Tommy Chong”. Whether he was targeted for being a high-profile celebrity they could make an example out of, for having assets which they could potentially seize, or for having mocked law enforcement officials in his films and comedy routines, it’s clear that what the federal government did to Tommy Chong was unjust and absurd given the countless real crimes they could have been addressing.
Since the passing of initiative I-502 which legalizes recreational marijuana use for adults in Washington State, figures such as Tommy Chong are vindicated and more respected than ever for having stood firm in their beliefs which the mainstream is now realizing to have been correct all along. So when it was announced at a Seattle Cannabis Tech Meetup that there would be a raffle contest for a chance to meet Tommy Chong in person, I was the first person to drop my business card in the hat.
It was a pretty hectic scene at the C&C Shop Medical dispensary in Lake City. It was a relatively small shop with a lot of personnel and associates along with a professional photographer with studio equipment setting up for a shoot taking place after the meet and greet.
Chong was busy with other media events earlier in the day but he seemed not high, but high spirited and friendly. I haven’t had much experience being around celebrities so it was interesting to see up close just how demanding it could be. As soon as he entered the room it was a flurry of activity as he continually spoke to one person after another amidst the flashing of cameras. When it was finally my turn to meet him I couldn’t resist asking for his autograph, being a longtime fan, and he kindly obliged. He seemed a little surprised that what I had brought for him to sign was a dvd of AKA Tommy Chong and self-effacingly joked about his mugshot used on the cover of the box.
Expecting a relatively quick meet and greet and knowing there wouldn’t be time enough for a full interview, I didn’t record the conversation but can report that since the 2008 Spectrum Labs raid, it seems the feds have been leaving him alone and he’s been moving forward with plans to do another live action film with Cheech Marin (they did an animated film together in 2012). Chong also confirmed and elaborated on how while he was in prison he was cellmate of Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street), how they struck up a friendship, and how he was the first person to urge Belfort to write a book about his life.
He said they’re still friends and he enjoyed the film adaptation of the book except for the ending.
By then our time was almost up but since he was curious I told him a little about my business and I let him know how important his case was to me as a fellow entrepreneur selling products online. He gave kind words of support and encouragement but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to smoke together. Nevertheless, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to chat with the legendary Tommy Chong, who was as mellow and funny (though not quite as high at the time) in person as his on-screen persona.
Reid Mukai is a Seattle blogger and owner of Cascadia Vape. (end)
Reid Mukai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.