Catching Up With Tommy Chong: A Chat About Smokin’ Up And Getting It Legal

By 04.20.10

Long before Spicoli and “The Dude,” a Mexican stoner stopped on the side of a Los Angeles freeway to pick up a hitchhiking drummer and burn down a colossal joint filled with “Labrador” — one-part Maui Wowi and one-part dog shit. It was the gut-busting birth of one of the most beloved pot smoking duos of all time, Cheech and Chong. By grossing over $45 million at the box office in 1978, “Up In Smoke” helped bake Hollywood´s commercial recipe for the screwball stoner comedy genre.

Despite follow-up movies and international celebrity as carefree pothead iconoclasts, Cheech parted ways with Chong in 1985 after packaging hazy college auditoriums and municipal theaters throughout the ’70s and ’80s with their successful live comedy routine. However, the duo reunited in 2008, just a few years after Chong spent nine months in a federal prison on a controversial drug paraphernalia trafficking indictment. His run-in with the criminal justice system stemmed from a federal operation that targeted Chong and his son´s commercial water bong and glass pipe operation. Sick of shakedowns and run-ins with the Man, the 71-year old comedian continues to blaze full speed ahead as an activist, sitting on the NORML advisory board while feverishly campaigning for the legalization of pot and planning a sequel to “Up In Smoke.”

With a marijuana legalization referendum slated for the California ballot in November and 4/20 just around the corner, I decided to track down Chong to talk about pot legalization, his current “Get It Legal” tour with Cheech, and his latest stand-up DVD, “Hey Watch This.” Of course, we ended up chatting about weed. After the jump, legendary comedian Tommy Chong discusses an “Up In Smoke” sequel, smoking with George Harrison, and jamming with Jimi Hendrix.

 

On the legalization of marijuana in California…
“It’s like waking up a sleeping giant. We’ve been awake and now we are waking up the rest of the population. It’s a good step for humanity and the human race because I also believe that marijuana is going to help people with illnesses and stop the onslaught of MS and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I also feel that making it legal will free up the hemp trade and rid of plastic bags. For instance, we’ll be able to manufacture things that make things that go into the environment without harming it. Right now plastic is a big problem in the world. It´s causing enormous problems with the environment because it is not biodegradable and hemp is. The bigger picture with the legalization of marijuana means we will be able to get hemp products back on the shelves. Instead of cutting down trees we will be able to grow our own paper needs and grow our grocery bags too. So I see it as a much bigger step than just being able to smoke without going to jail.

“It’s just a referendum right now. The vote in California doesn´t mean a whole lot because even if they do pass it, it is still against state law. But it will give all of the officials in charge a clear signal to either legalize it or we will just keep voting it legal until we will just vote you out of office and vote someone who will change.”

 

 

On the national legalization of marijuana in the United States…
“You know that can be done with a stroke of a pen. It can be done as an executive order and I think that once the people have spoken, it will compel the ones who have the power to act. All they have to do is change their line from a Schedule One — which is a lie that says it has no medical value what so ever — to a Schedule Two, which means that the drugs are available by a prescription only.

“Now there are some states that in the union that do not want to deal with marijuana. They can say, ‘O.K., you can´t sell it in our state.’ That won’t be able to stop people from taking a whiff, which will be a recognized medicine with prescription. That’s what I see happening.”
 

On government control and regulation of marijuana…
“You can´t really control it. It´s a weed that grows anywhere, so therefore you can´t really control growing a weed. You can´t patent it. It would have been legal a long time ago if people like Hearst who owned a lot of timberland and DuPont who owned plastic could patent it.

“It’s really opening a gift from God. God gave us this gift at the beginning. It’s even in the Bible: ‘I give thee green Earth’ and he meant a plant that does everything. It clothes us, feeds us, and it makes us happy. The worst thing about pot is that when it’s abused, you just end up going to sleep. You don´t go get in your car so you´re not a drunk driver. There´s never been a death attributed to marijuana overdose, so you can´t really overdose on it. It’s a perfect intoxicant. People on this planet have been using it ever since the beginning: the Chinese, Middle Eastern people. They still use the plant as an intoxicant. More than anything it will free up the physical world so that we will now have a bag that disintegrates. That’s important.”

 

On his first time smoking pot…
“I was 18 years old in high school. It was… God… 12th year? No, grade 11. I repeated [grade] 10 and was halfway through 11. I smoked up and I quit the next day.

“I was in a jazz club and I heard music for the first time. Even though I’ve heard it before, I´ve never heard it like this. It was revealed to me, like an experience I’ve never ever really repeated again as intense. Really, I just heard music.”

 

On his favorite music to listen to while stoned…
“All time is…well let’s start with John Coltrane. I´m a jazz guy. Someone else who I love and fascinates me is Bo Diddley. His lyrics got me writing music. [Bob] Dylan is a big influence. You know that song ‘Mr. Tambourine Man?’ Well the guy he sings the song about, The Tambourine Man, turned me on to acid. It was my first LSD experience and also changed my life for the better.”

 

On his first acid trip…
“I’m thinking it was around ’64. It wasn’t even called acid, it didn´t have a name, it was called ‘Try This.’ It was sprinkled on a little piece of bread like communion. I did it with my organ player Bernie, who had a whole different experience than I did. My experience really went into the spiritual realm. I have yet to recover. I am still there.”

 

On acid…
“It was a spiritual quest. It opened my eyes and I was on a spiritual search. I had this urge to know God. I learned about the power of prayer when I was really young, seven, eight years old. I saw the power of prayer work. When I took acid, it was a very religious, spiritual experience.”

On the mellowest celebrity he’s ever smoked with..
“Probably George Harrison. Yeah, George and I smoked a few times. He was quiet — very quiet — and had a great sense of humor. He sort of reminded me of a big old cowboy in a Western who doesn’t speak much man but is very poli
te. What a phenomenal guitar player George was. It’s
funny. I’ve met every Beatle besides Paul. I´ve met Ringo, I´ve met John. I tried to get high with John but he was having trouble with the immigration at the time so he didn´t want to smoke.

“One of the best experiences I ever had was with [legendary jazz guitar player] Wes Montgomery. He was playing in a little jazz club in Vancouver. Vancouver is home to lots of heroin users, so a lot of junkies in the crowd were passed out. Wes had a set to do. It was basically just me and no one else. So I got to sit almost on top of his amplifier, as close to Wes without sitting on his lap. He played an entire set and in between numbers he gave me a lesson. He told me about how he got his style and what he went through. It was so sweet. I had this experience with Hendrix too.”

On hanging out with Jimi Hendrix…
“I played with Hendrix once. He used to come up to Vancouver when I had a band up there. He actually sat in our band and he played bass. I played guitar. We didn’t have a left-hand guitar. He brought his bad, sat up, and our band played a whole set. He was incredible. He would come up when he was Jimmy Jones and in the service, so I didn’t know him as a guitar player but he knew me. He knew my band and we were in a little bit with him. I really have to admit, it was the British, the psychedelics, and the acid too that really inspired his playing. Jimmy, oh man, he was a soul brother. We partied after that night. The sad part was that he spent most of the night in the bathroom.”


 

On using marijuana to pick up girls and get laid…
“I was doing an interview with High Times, and Rick (Cusack) said, ‘You know marijuana is the most widely used aphrodisiac in the world.’ He´s right. It relaxes you and the sex is incredible. So yeah, it works to pick up chicks if the girls are into smoking pot. If they´re not into it, than no.”

On his favorite strain of marijuana…
“My stock guarantor is anything given to me by a nekked woman. Yeah, that´s my favorite. I’m more partial to the California bud. I’ve got some down in my workshop. I’m really partial to it because it´s an upper, not a downer. I’ve found out that a lot of the buds they say are “so powerful” don´t bring you up as high. It’s like what Columbian used to do to me.”

On the best bud in the United States…
“Anywhere you have sunshine, you have good bud. Any desert country — Mexico, Arizona. The short growing periods in Alaska, British Columbia have incredible buds. With hydroponics you can have buds night and day in every corner of the world. That’s really changed everything.”

On returning to the stage with Cheech Marin…
“The vibe is better, much better. We are icons now, so we don´t have to do much more than walk on the stage. I mean the good thing is that we have aged great. We still have the energy that we had before. That’s what we discovered puts us apart from everybody else: we have a great energy. We´re a little bit slower now but our hearts are still there.”

On “Hey Watch This” and an upcoming animated project…
“It´s our crunchy movie that we shot in San Antonio, Texas, and coming out on April 20th. We also have animated a couple of our albums and we put them into a featured movie. I’m guessing it will come out in November.”

 

On an “Up In Smoke” sequel…
“I’m working on ‘Up in Smoke, 30 Years Later’ kind of movie. It’s a surprise, but it’s going to be everything that everybody wants. The magic thing with Cheech and Chong is that it was sort of our twisted, futuristic look at the world. When you look at ‘Up in Smoke,’ we were dealing with immigration problems that are now in the headlines. We were dealing with marijuana that is now on the verge of legalization. We were really ahead of our times, which gave ‘Up in Smoke’ legs. That’s why it is still popular today. I’m sure there are people who have literally seen it hundreds of times. So what we’re going to do now is that we are going to continue on with that process and pick up where we left off.

“When I first started to work on the next Cheech and Chong movie, I put in a little of personal part about us being apart. That doesn’t work because to our fans, we’ve never been apart. When you see ‘Up in Smoke,’ we never smoke, break up, and then do “Nice Dreams.’ There was no reason to get involved in our personal struggles, so what I’ve done is ignored them and picked up where we left off. As a result, it’s going to be like we never left.”

On Cheech looking forward to the ‘Up In Smoke’ sequel…
“As excited as a grumpy, old stoner can get in his third divorce, third marriage.”

On his preferred method of smoking up…
“My preferred method is a one hitter. I make them out of bamboo because glass is tough to make and bamboo is a hands-on plant that´s easily available. When the police take it away from you, you don’t care. They look at it, go ‘it’s a stick of bamboo.’ It’s really out of necessity. “

On the best place to stash weed in the event of a shakedown…
“I used to get across the border by putting it a little pocket in my guitar case. I would put my guitar on my shoulders and the pot would be way above my head. The dogs could never smell it. They’d smell around my feet, my pockets. They couldn´t see it. That was one method how I would cross the border with it. And then I got caught and I had to show them how I stashed it. They don´t care anyways. The best is not to stash; not hide it and don´t have it with you. If you´re fly with it, you never know what is going to happen. You’ll get stopped and hassled.

You can pick up pot anywhere in the world. It’s a phone call away. You can get pot faster than you can get a pizza. Trust me, I’ve order both and the pot gets there first. Which made the pizza even better.”

 


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