“I did time in jail, so I know exactly how to act during lockdown,” slips cannabis icon Tommy Chong, who knows what’s up.
Among the few celebrities in marijuana history that can be referred to as true “Weed Royalty”, Chong certainly has a rightful claim to the throne.
Back in 2003, he did 9 months in jail for supporting a brand of pipes and cannabis paraphernalia. 17 years later, the world is a whole different place.
After a successful run with his own brand of legal cannabis, Chong is reuniting with his old partner Cheech Marin to spread their new line of Cheech & Chong dispensaries throughout the country’s legal cannabis states.
The actor, comedian, musician, writer, director, activist and businessman has been the face of the marijuana movement for at least three generations. Soon, his smokable legacy will be available at his own dispensaries spread across the Land Of The Free.
Up In Smoke, Still Up The List
With a career spanning over six decades, 82 year-old Chong has an impressive track record in the entertainment industry. He’s responsible for carving the iconic “stoner” archetype into the minds of baby boomers and gen x-ers all around the English-speaking world.
For Millennials, he’s best known as Leo, the -overly- relaxed, well-aged hippie that shared stoned adventures with Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher in That’s 70s Show.
But of all the movies and shows Chong has been a part of throughout the years, he believes Up In Smoke, the very first volume of the Cheech & Chong saga, is the best he’s ever made.
“The first time of anything, it’s always memorable, incredible. And we did things in that movie that we never did again. We didn’t know any better. You know, that old thing, if it works, don’t fix it? Well, it worked,” says Chong with a big ’ole smile across his face.
Going forward, Chong explains that the duo already knew what worked and what didn’t work on screen.
“And so the other movies were kind of manipulation, but Up In Smoke was definitely innovation.”
Cheech & Chong: The Brick And Mortar Sequel
The idea of opening a dispensary using the Cheech & Chong brand is not new. The actor says he got numerous offers throughout the years, but none struck a chord with his vision.
“We had a lot of offers, but they were kind of bogus offers. You know, they’re all scams where they wanted to raise a lot of money to use the name,” he voices.
When his home country of Canada issued a law saying that celebrity names can’t be used to sell cannabis, he thought it was time to wait. But waiting idly is not in Chong’s style.
In 2016 he decided to launch a cannabis brand in the U.S. called Tommy Chong’s Cannabis. Four years later, the company is a big success: they now sell flowers, pre-rolls, oil cartridges, THC-infused breath strips, energy drinks and edibles, and is available in numerous dispensaries throughout the country.
“But the one thing we never had was our own store,” says Chong, sounding like a man who’s fulfilling a life-long dream. After conquering the realm of cannabis products, owning the outlets means dominating the whole consumer experience.
Chong got a hold of his old buddy Cheech Marin, and the duo got back together to share their love of weed with the world.
“Cheech was going through the same thing I was, you know, with his own private line of products,” says Chong, referring to Cheech’s Private Stash, Marin’s own product brand.
The dispensaries will be designed by Cheech & Chong, and will carry the entire atmosphere of their movies and records, as well as their own products. For a long-time fan of the duo, entering one of these temples will feel like walking into the screen of a Cheech & Chong movie.
“You know, it’s going to be like a Disneyland of pot for Cheech & Chong,” says the actor.
In an interesting way, the Cheech & Chong dispensaries are the continuation of their classic comedic material, a real-life sequel. The first few will open in California in 2021 and then expand to Nevada, Arizona, Illinois, and Washington State.
An Ever-Growing Love For Tango
Surprisingly enough, Tommy Chong is crazy about Tango. In fact, he says his connections with Latinx culture go back to the first portrays of Latinxs in the early Cheech and Chong movies.
“We showed Latinos, and especially Chicanos, in the most positive light ever,” he says. “And it changed everybody’s attitude. You know, before that, even Chicanos were thinking, ‘you know, I got to wear a headband and be a dope dealer, or some kind of drug lord, or some kind of subservient to the ruling class’.”
Today, Chong enjoys his connections to Latinx culture through Tango music and dance.
“Oh my God, tango changed my life! I’m telling you, because the more I got into it, the more I learned I didn’t know it,” says Chong between giggles.
Chong and his wife, comedian/producer Shelby Chong, discovered Tango in the early eighties, during the shooting of Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers, which was shot in Paris. But it wasn’t until two years ago, when the couple traveled to Argentina for leisure, that the hobby developed into a full-time passion.
In Argentina, home of Tango, the Chongs learned that their love for the dance was as big as their ignorance about most of it.
“I did pretty good on Dancing with the Stars, so there was this perception that I knew how to dance! So when I got to Argentina, man, I don’t know what happened, but I was like I couldn’t dance!”
During lockdown, Chong is taking advantage of the extra time to perfect his tango skills, reflecting on all the knowledge he gathered during his visit to Argentina.
“I came up with an exercise routine -for men and women- you just do it yourself, you do it on your own. It’s all about the count. It’s all about balance. And it’s all about the posture.”
And counting away in a Tango step goes Tommy Chong, off to his new cannabis venture.
Natán Ponieman co-authored this article.