When people hear Cheech & Chong, they think cannabis.
Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin seared their names into the counterculture decades ago with their subversive stoner comedy. Now they’re leaving their outsized mark on legal cannabis.
Celebrity brands have captured a growing share of the cannabis industry in recent years, but few can compete with C&C‘s name recognition. They’ve been associated with cannabis products since before cannabis legalization gained steam. Chong was sent to federal prison in 2003 for selling a bong to a customer in Pennsylvania.
After decades of skirting the line, endorsing quasi-legal cannabis-related businesses, the comedy duo have built a legal and growing cannabis empire.
The Cheech & Chong’s Cannabis Company was created when Eighth Icon Holdings rebranded last year. Both already had their own irons in the fire of the cannabis industry. Tommy Chong’s Cannabis and Cheech’s Stash have offered branded products in California for years. Now, legal cannabis is spreading throughout the country and Marin and Chong are poised to benefit nationwide.
Profiles in Legalization interviewed Cheech Marin by phone last month about his stoner food delivery service with chef Zach Neil, Muncheechos. The remainder of this article is the result of that and a phone interview with Tommy Chong last September, in which some questions overlapped.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What’s an average day been like for you during Covid?
A typical day? Well, I sleep really well. I have a hard time getting up early. It’s getting later and later, because, you know, my age and everything. We close shop around here around 10:00, maybe 11. When I get up, I take my little dog for a walk because you got to train them not to pee in the house. Then I check my phone.
I’m usually in my office and then I make calls and I do “cameos.” I answer fan mail and I test my product. Then somewhere along the line, I’ll get a request– usually through my Cameos [personalized messages via Cameo.com]– , “Hey Tommy, smoke up while you’re doing your thing.”
And that’s about my day. I try to stay medicated and that way, whatever else, I love doing what I’m doing. If I’m writing. I love writing. If I’m doing my art, I get into it. Exercise? I’m not as young as I used to be. So I do the rubber bands. I just make sure, you know, everything’s working the way that it should.
First, get up. Look out the window. See how the rabbits are doing, because I got rabbits all over my place in the desert. I’m trying to work on a recipe for jackrabbit jerky. It comes pre-flattened. “Now in jalapenos flavor,” from our our shovel to your table, you know? (laughs) There’s plenty of rabbits out here in the desert.
That’s generally my day. I get up and my wife and I both have academic work to do. I’m working on a finishing this novella, and she’s trying to finish her doctorate in the piano performance.
Aiden: She’s a concert pianist, right?
Cheech: Yeah, but she wants a doctorate for some ungodly reason. (laughs)
Tommy, do you think when cannabis prohibition ends you’ll request that your federal conviction (for selling paraphernalia by mail to Pa.) be expunged?
Well, I got a better plan. I’m going to petition– when the time’s right– I’m going to petition to change my plea. See, I want to go before the judge and change my plea to “not guilty”. Because it’s been proven that I really wasn’t guilty. In fact, he knew, the judge knew that it was a deal between the prosecution and my team. That if I didn’t plead guilty, they would go after my son and my wife who were totally innocent.
I found out there’s a little known thing that you can do. You can ask to go before the judge to change your plea and that’s what I would do. Then I will also ask the judge to reimburse me wages.
It was taken from me. Yeah, they took $30,000 in cash that had nothing to do with bongs. It was loose cash in my house that we made from selling T-shirts.
Do you still use cannabis?
Tommy: Yeah, I got this great CBD energy drink. It’s called Good Vibes and it’s CBD. I think it has a bit of caffeine or something. Something that’ll get everything pumping and headed in the right direction.
Aiden: Like 5-hour energy with a twist?
Tommy: Yeah. It’s CBD and it’s so good for you.
Aiden: Healthier than the other stuff they put in there, I’m sure.
Tommy: I’ve got a shitload of weed that, you know, that I get free. And so I spend a lot of time playing with it, grinding it my way. Rolling. Trying to roll the perfect joint, you know, and I’m getting good. I’m getting pretty good.
I was pipe guy for a while. Because I was making bongs out of recycled glass. I’m looking at a bunch of them on my desk now. But I ended up going back to the joint because with the joint you don’t have to smoke the whole thing, you know? So I do a couple of tokes, and then I put it out. Or it goes out by itself because I forgot I’m smoking it.
Cheech: I’m a pipe guy. I get a pipe and a bud and away we go. Everything else is more work than I want to put into it. Except for when I’m recovering from an injury.
I just had a knee replacement. It’s the second one I’ve had. On the other one, they put me on these opiates, you know, to recover from the procedure. That was horrible. At the end of the day, they didn’t work, they didn’t stop the pain and you have an addiction to opioids.
But this time I used dabs, uh, to to manage the pain. You know what dabs are?
Aiden: Yep. It’s what I do all day.
Cheech: Hey, so you know. And it’s a body high, so it takes the edge of the pain off and that’s all you want when you’re recovering. Now, the other one took me six months to recover and it didn’t get better, it got worse. This time, two months and I was ready to walk around the block, you know?
Cheech, can you tell me about the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture?
Sure. I started putting together this big collection that about 40 years ago and I’ve been collecting ever since. At some point, it got to be the size where friends in the industry said, “You’ve got to show this.” So I looked around for ways to show it and I I finally did through the generosity of Target stores and Hewlett-Packard.
We launched the first show, “Chicano Visions,” to tour most regions of the country over the next seven years. All the big institutions: the Smithsonian, a San Diego museum, all the big ones. Then I started breaking it up in the smaller sections, you know, works on paper, works by women, works for Texans, you know.
At some point, about four years ago, I guess, the city of Riverside came to me, and they say, “We would like you to offer you this museum to house the collection.” And I didn’t understand. You want me to buy a museum? I mean, I’m doing okay, but I don’t know about good enough to buy a museum. And he said, No. No. We want to give you the the museum. You give us the collection to house there, and we’ll give you the place to show up for… all eternity, I guess.
That sounded like a good idea, you know, because I have been touring this for, like, 40 years. Now we have a permanent place to stay, and it’s a cultural center. The collection anchors it, but has a lot of aspects to it; film, academics, and all kinds of stuff that we’re going to produce under this banner.
Have you found any downsides to the legal cannabis industry?
No, I haven’t. I mean, it’s tough to make money in because there’s so many places that it can go wrong. And every state is different, you know, you have to reinvent the wheel in every state. It’s geared toward making any kind of cannabis business a small business rather than a large, you know, nationwide business. But that’s going to change, too.
Now it’s getting to be so it doesn’t matter which segment of society you happen to reside in, marijuana enters that fragment across across the world, you know?
Tommy: For Tommy’s answer, check out our earlier article: Tommy Chong: Don’t treat cannabis like alcohol
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