Pubdate: Wed, 04 Mar 2015
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Michael A. Stusser


At 76, the pater familias of the legalization movement won't slow down.

I'll be honest. My expectations about a press conference with Tommy 
Chong, of the famous stoner duo Cheech & Chong, were that there would 
be some cliched humor, some pantomimed puffing, and photo ops galore 
for hippies of a bygone era. And there was some of that. But there 
was also something I didn't expect: a fresh perspective on the new 
pot movement.

The reason Tommy Chong matters-and the reason I'm writing about his 
recent visit to Seattle's CannaCon-is that each and every time 
there's a mention of legalization or the counterculture or pot 
smoking, there's inevitably a reference to Cheech & Chong. Even if 
the name is never spoken, a haze of Cheech & Chong wafts through the 
mind. (See?!)

The new conventional wisdom is that the cliche stoner jokes that 
found purchase in the duo's franchise are outmoded and of a different 
era. But what if the beliefs that undergird these jokes are not 
passe? What if they're an iconic and important set of core values 
still relevant-values that should not be lost as we move into a 
ganjapreneurial era driven by economic and opportunistic rationales?

"We've got a great show going on here," Chong noted at his February 
20 press conference, "but everybody here is breaking the law and 
subject to arrest according to our government. Even though we voted 
legalization in, and the people spoke, we still have police and a 
government that's out to arrest us." The man knows of what he speaks: 
In 2003 Chong was arrested, convicted, and put in federal prison for 
nine months. Not for selling or smoking marijuana, but for having 
legally licensed his name to a company (Chong Glass/Nice Dreams) that 
made water pipes-bongs-that were sold across state lines. I can tell 
you that if I was tossed in the slammer for nine months, I would have 
exited one angry motherfucker. Not our friend Tommy Chong.

"I got singled out-and ya know what? I feel blessed!" Chong said with 
his infamous and mischievous grin. "I was looking for something to 
revitalize my career. Cheech and I were fading into the distance and 
I needed something. And then it came. It was like my prayers were 
answered: You're going to jail! Great! That's the way I looked at it."

Today Chong puts his name on everything from hemp water (Chongwater!) 
to Chong Star marijuana to Smoke Swipes (for the parent who goes out 
to fire up and doesn't want to return to the dinner table reeking of 
weed). But his philosophical attitude isn't an act. He's a product of 
the '60s and walks the talk-mainly about pot.

"Pot's only good if you give it to someone or you smoke it. You don't 
have to hoard it. Because in a few months, you'll have a new crop! So 
you gotta give it away! That's what you gotta do with your life. 
That's the secret! You gotta give love!"

The more I listened to this smiling, effervescent 76-year-old ramble, 
the more I realized why he is such a joyous inspiration. Sure, there 
are cliched truths about "hippies" that I don't fully embrace: the 
lack of showering, the unkempt beards, and those Godawful tie-dyed 
T-shirts. But the core values of these counterculture beatniks? 
Peace, love, and understanding? An "It's all good" outlook? Communal 
interests? Harmony with nature? Egalitarianism? Sustainability? 
Positive vibrations? Good lord! Tell me we couldn't use more of the 
"Make Love Not War" mindset in this divisive FoxNews era of angry, 
trolling, Twittering punditry.

Chong was half an hour late for his news conference, and catching a 
glimpse of the icon slowly ambling down the convention hall, I saw 
why. He stopped for each and every stoner, head, hanger-on, and 
pothead who'd jumped at the chance to get a photo with the legend.

"It's true," Chong noted during his hour-long chat. "I'll take a 
picture with anybody. And there's a reason for that. We don't have 
much time. We think we do-especially when we're young. But we don't." 
Chong knows this better than most, after beating prostate cancer with 
the help of the CBD oils in, yes, marijuana. "When someone asks for a 
pic, that's a compliment. They're not asking everyone-they're asking 
me! It's not a burden. It's a privilege! Most people my age will 
either be retired or limping around. Me? I'm going Dancing With the Stars!"

Four decades after Up in Smoke, Tommy Chong is hardly couchlocked, 
but still a relevant player in the marijuana movement. He'll be in 
Washington this week to support another group being singled out for 
using weed, the Kettle Falls 5. He may no longer be the official face 
of marijuana: the new Green Rush lends itself to sexy budtenders and 
Seth Rogan and Snoop. But I sure wish he was.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom