Tommy Chong is a cannabis icon, and for good reason. Obviously Tommy Chong is part of the famed film duo Cheech and Chong. But Tommy Chong is also much more than that. Tommy Chong has fought for reform, and as a cancer patient (for the second time) has been a very big proponent for medical cannabis for suffering patients. Tommy Chong is a cannabis entrepreneur, and is the most recognizable face in the cannabis world. Chong is also a hell of a nice guy, as I found out today via a conversation we had over the phone this evening.
I was a Tommy Chong fan before I was a cannabis fan. As I've talked about many times on this blog, my favorite uncle had the Cheech and Chong Wedding Album when I was growing up, and he rocked that vinyl like there was no tomorrow. Every time he played it, which was multiple times a day, he would also tell the story of what he did with the jumbo-sized rolling paper that came with every vinyl copy. Tommy Chong has been a big hero of mine for a long time, and it was surreal to chat with him about life, activism, dancing, and a bunch of other stuff.
The first question I asked Tommy Chong was one that virtually everyone I talked to asked about when I told them I was getting the chance to interview Tommy. I asked him about his health, and how he's feeling these days as he battles cancer.
"Good, really good." he said. "I have another month,and one more treatment, and I'll be totally cancer free." I explained to Tommy that on behalf of the cannabis community, we are going to need him to live to at least 150, which made him laugh. "I'll give it a shot." Chong replied.
I asked Tommy how he incorporates cannabis into his treatment regimen. He said that he used to do cannabis oil injections but that he had worries about the quality of the oil and moved away from that method. Chong still smokes, and never really stopped, and that helps him out a lot, as it always has. Tommy Chong points to cannabis as the reason why he is still spry well into his 70's.
"I'll be 78 pretty soon, and at the age of 76 I was on dancing with the stars. I was the oldest person to ever get as far as I did, and I think I could have won it had I not started showing signs of cancer." Tommy went on to explain that he started having very foul smells exiting his body, which may have contributed to his premature exit when he should have gone all the way for the title. "I think most people voting wanted to see me go all the way, but the show probably wanted me out because they couldn't handle the odor." Tommy said with a chuckle.
I asked Tommy if he was still dancing. The only Dancing with the Stars episodes I ever watched was when he was on there, and he had moves. He responded with, "I don't have as much energy as I used to have, but I still do Argentine Tango. I do that about twice a week right now and may pick up some other stuff as I get my energy back, but Argentine Tango is mostly just walking and leading, and I enjoy it. I always say, if you want to rule the world, be a male Tango dancer."
I've seen Tommy Chong doing a lot of things in the industry, and with activism, and I asked him if there's anything in particular that he has planned that he's particularly excited about. "I'll try anything cannabis. Anything to promote responsible use. But something I definitely want to do while I'm still here on this planet is help with making sure that every parent that needs cannabis medicine for their child that suffers from epilepsy, to make sure that they get all the medicine that they need." Tommy said. Chong went on to say that he supports medical use for anything that cannabis helps with, and for responsible recreational use too.
That then led into a conversation about Michigan marijuana politics. I have seen Tommy in a lot of Michigan media outlets offering up quotes and making appearances, and he endorsed the MILegalize initiative. I expressed to him my frustration that Michigan doesn't get more attention, because clearly reform efforts are going well there and the cannabis industry is growing, despite constant attacks by elected officials and law enforcement.
"Pot is saving Michigan." Tommy Chong was quick to say. "What happened in Flint was unforgivable. You have these big car companies that have shipped all the jobs overseas and there's vacant lots everywhere, with mother nature reclaiming a lot of it. I really believe marijuana can do a lot to help out Michigan. You can bring marijuana jobs to Michigan by growing marijuana in those factories. And instead of it being jobs from an industry built around cars, it will be jobs from an industry built around cannabis." I talked about how in Oregon, where I live (and where Chong is visiting soon!), marijuana can do the same for rural areas that have been hit by the downturn in the timber industry. "Exactly!" Tommy exclaimed.
Tommy then dropped an idea on me that he wants to see happen. He is hoping that if he talks about it enough, that someone will pick up the idea. "I want to start a marijuana fertilizer company. I want to take all of the stems and all of the root balls from marijuana plants that people throw away, grind it up, and turn it into fertilizer. There are a lot of crops out there that are really taxing on the soil, and cannabis fertilizer is a great way to put nutrients back into the soil. That's the great thing about the cannabis plant. We can use all of it. Every last sliver."
The conversation then turned to national politics. Tommy has publicly endorsed Bernie Sanders, and I have made it clear that as a cannabis advocate, I support Bernie Sanders' campaign too. I told him that when it comes to cannabis policy, Bernie Sanders is the most progressive candidate, and it's not even close. Tommy was quick to point out that he didn't just support Bernie because of his support for cannabis reform, but that he also endorsed Bernie because he's the only credible candidate.
"Bernie Sanders is the only candidate that doesn't have to struggle to remember what they are supposed to talk about, and that's because it's easy to tell the truth. The truth will always be the truth, so it's not hard to remember. All of these other candidates have to struggle to keep their stories straight. Trump will obviously say anything regardless of if he knows what he is talking about, so it's hard to take him seriously. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Hillary's friend, still thinks that marijuana is a gateway drug. She better check that gate because the only thing that marijuana is the gateway to is a happy and fulfilling life full of wonderful things." Tommy Chong said.
Chong feels the way many people feel. "Look at the Iraq issue. Bernie Sanders voted against the war on Iraq, and wears it as a badge of honor. All Hillary Clinton can do is try to apologize for voting for it, and do everything she can to try to avoid talking about it."
I asked Tommy Chong about a topic that I have always wanted to talk to him about, but wasn't sure how he felt about it. I told him ahead of time that he didn't need to say anything if he didn't want to, but I have always wondered how he felt about Operation Pipe Dreams. For those that are not familiar with Operation Pipe Dreams, I wrote about it once upon a time in an article titled Have You Ever Seen A Chong Bong? The quick summary is that Tommy Chong's son made bongs with Tommy's likeness on them, and after a reefer madness witch hunt of massive proportions, Tommy Chong had to do 9 months in federal prison. I assumed it was a traumatic experience.
"It was actually the opposite." Tommy Chong said. "I only had 30 bad minutes during the entire experience. They had undercover cops riding by my place on bicycles. Helicopters flying over my house. They would ask about the smoke that they smelled coming from my house. I was eventually arrested and did the court thing. It didn't bother me. Even the sentencing didn't bother me. It was only when I was in the cell, and they shut the door and turned the key, for about half an hour it was rough. I was laying there on a cot next to a wall, listening to hundreds of other guys snoring and farting. I panicked a little bit. But after that, it really wasn't that bad. I had to learn how to do time, but really it felt like I was a journalist embedded with the troops. I learned a lot, especially from one of my best friends that I met while I was in there, Steve."
Tommy went on to talk about his friend Steve, and the other friends that he made while incarcerated. He was treated well and quickly met like minded people to hang out with. He talked about games he would play to pass the time, and that he read a lot. "It was really a spiritual experience for me." Tommy kept saying when describing prison. It really put things into perspective for him, and while he was always a cannabis activist, that stint in prison really supercharged his activist aspirations, which he has been pursuing ever since.
I own a Chong Bong, and I asked him how he feels about seeing them from time to time. "I love those bongs, and I'm very proud of them. They are works of art. My son designed them and I'm definitely proud of every one of them. I'm hoping that someday I can get my charges expunged and get back into the bong business. If there's one product that me and my family know about, it's bongs." That made me laugh. I asked Chong if he would be willing to autograph my Chong Bong at the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, which he will be appearing at later this month on the 24th. "Absolutely." Chong said. If that indeed happens, I will be able to cross something off of my bucket list that I have daydreamed about many, many times.
You can see Tommy Chong too at the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference (OMBC). Tommy Chong will be joined by Dr. Carl Hart, who is one of the smartest people on the planet. Literally. I will be there, and hopefully you will be there too. I went last year, and it was a blast. I made a lot of friends, and got to meet a lot of cannabis community members that I have admired from afar for a long time. Early bird tickets are still available through tomorrow. $149 to see Chong, Dr. Hart, network with other like minded people, learn, and have fun? That's well worth it (you can purchase tickets here). Especially since Oregon is on the verge of starting a new era for cannabis. There's lots to learn, and the OMBC is the perfect place to do it.
One thing that Tommy Chong specifically told me is that he loves Eugene, Oregon because people always bring him such great cannabis gifts. He likes it and encourages it, and since you can gift cannabis for no consideration in Oregon, I plan on bringing him some! He said that he will consume what he can, and give the rest away to patients. I think that's very, very cool. See you (and Chong!) at the OMBC on April 24th!