Tommy Chong Is Enjoying The Way ‘Cannabis Culture Has Evolved’ With Recent Decriminalization (Exclusive)

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Image Credit: Courtesy Tommy Chong

Tommy Chong is a spiritual man. While speaking with HollywoodLife about the upcoming 4/20 holiday, Tommy – cannabis icon and half of the trailblazing counterculture comedy duo Cheech & Chong – reflects on his journey. He shares how he first experienced “the feeling of God” as a child, how he fasted for Ramadan alongside his daughter-in-law, Rahma Azhari, why death “is just another experience,” and how he loves the stories of the Christian Bible. “It’s so full of great fiction, but it’s incredible,” he tells HL joyously. But, regarding cannabis, Tommy has a very grounded, pragmatic view – specifically in how it’s being branded in 2023.

“If you’re the salesman and trying to sell it, you got to make it like ladies putting on lipstick,” says Tommy. “You know what I mean? Make it attractive. That’s why they have the different strains – ‘this has got the little scent of blueberry, and this has honey.’” Leafwell, the cannabis data hub, says that cannabis experts currently recognize between 700 and 800 strains (the Leafly app can help you navigate them.) There are low THC strains, strains that can help you focus, and cannabis that tastes like fruits or cheeses.

“When I grew up, it all smelled like cat piss,” says Tommy bluntly. “In fact, when we were growing weed in the house here, Shelby, my wife, would come home and go, [sniffs] ‘Did that cat pee in the house again?’ It was the weed wafting through the thing!”

Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong (Courtesy Tommy Chong)

Tommy laughs at the memory, one of many he’s accumulated on this journey (he turns 85 in May.) The comedian, actor, director, and cannabis icon has seen cannabis go from getting people locked up for absurdly (almost cruelly) long sentences to being fully legalized in nearly half of the United States. Tommy was famously arrested in 2003 as part of Operation Pipe Dreams, a nationwide law-enforcement initiative targeting paraphernalia sellers.

Tommy was busted for financing and promoting Chong Glass Works/Nice Dreams, a glass pipe company started by his son, Paris Chong. Tommy negotiated a plea deal to spare his son and wife from the prosecution and served nine months in federal prison. Tommy’s experiences were captured in his memoir, The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint, and the 2006 documentary, a/k/a Tommy Chong.

Twenty years after Tommy’s arrest, anyone 21+ can order smoking devices off the Internet.


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♬ original sound – Cheech & Chong

“I’m really enjoying the way that cannabis culture has evolved,” Tommy tells HL. “It’s almost like wine [culture]. Because it’s the same thing as wine. People say, ‘Well, this has been aged, and it’s great.’ To me, I don’t see anything. Of course, I’ve never been a connoisseur of anything other than … what am I a connoisseur of? Bodybuilding. I’m a bodybuilder.”

It’s been a wild ride for Tommy. After meeting Cheech Marin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in the late 1960s, Tommy and his new friend formed the duo synonymous with stoner comedy. When they went their separate ways in the late 1980s, Tommy remained a fixture in the comedy world, thanks to high-profile appearances in Half Baked, Miami Vice, and That ’70s Show.

Tommy and Cheech reunited in the late-2000s and have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, be it due to the increased regulation of the fact that their comedy, though deeply rooted in the 70s and 80s, has a timelessness to it. The duo has also found a footing with GenZ: their TikTok boasts more than 7 million followers. In 2023, they launched the Bowlmates platform, creating an online cannabis community. Their Cheech & Chong Cannabis Co. established them in the world of celebrity-branded cannabis lines, supplying Cheech’s Private Stash, Cheech & Chong’s Takeout, and Tommy Chong’s Cannabis and CBD line. They also announced a new biopic in 2023, a movie that’ll document Cheech & Chong’s impact on culture and comedy.

Tommy Chong (Courtesy Tommy Chong)

The duality of Chong is that he’s busier than ever, but he’s also going with the flow. “My whole life has been controlled and ordained. I’m here for a purpose,” he says. When asked what his plans are for the stoner holiday, Tommy smiles. “Oh, I don’t know. My whole life is planned out for me,” he says, utterly unbothered by the fact. “I don’t even worry about it until it comes time.”

“As you get older,” explains Tommy, “you realize how everything’s a mystery for a reason. The answers have always been here, and the answers have been written in many, many, many books passed down through the ages. But we’re on a scavenger hunt, and each of us has our own instructions of what we’re supposed to find and bring back to the campfire. And, if you know too much, the game’s over.”

“I’m becoming more and more spiritual, or aware of it,” he tells HL. “I’m also becoming increasingly aware of the necessity to keep your mouth shut. The one thing that I say is that all mystics and all prophets have the same twinkle in their eye. They know. They can’t tell you because — spoiler alert, they don’t want to spoil the ending for you or even make you depressed or whatever. And that’s what I’m coming to grips with.”


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♬ You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me – The Miracles

“I’ve been observing all my life, just sitting and watching, which really comes in handy,” he explains. At the start of his life, he was put into an orphanage after his mother contracted tuberculosis. “My dad couldn’t handle being a single father,” he says. The orphanage, which Tommy says was “a Salvation Army” that was “militant Christianity,” instilled this structure. It also taught him how to handle being isolated. “I developed a sense of being alone in the world,” he tells HL, “and it’s a feeling I keep with me today.”

Tommy has been carrying that weight for a while. “Try as I might, I don’t feel any owners of anything. I got a new car. We built a beautiful house in Palisades, and I just have to consciously walk around and say, ‘This is mine.’”

Though Tommy’s experience in the orphanage was less than pleasant, he credits going to Sunday School with connecting himself to a higher power. “I tell this on stage once in a while,” he shares. “I vividly remember the Sunday school teacher saying, ‘God is everywhere. Everywhere.’ And I remember walking out with my friends and going to myself, ‘Okay, if God’s everywhere, where is God? Is he following me?’ And when I asked that question … I really do. I can remember to this day, I felt this something pushed my head up to look at the heavens.”

“And we’re in the country in Calgary. It was around fall, I guess, so the Milky Way was just hanging right over Calgary. You could see rockets. You could see comets, meteorites, and planets. It was so bright. But when I say, ‘Where is God?’ in my mind, I’m looking at the heavens, and then I found out all my life, to this moment right now, is that God was my companion,” he adds. “They say closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet, that feeling. That’s the feeling of God.”

There does seem to be a higher power behind the life of Tommy Chong. Before meeting Cheech and becoming a comedy icon, Tommy was already a successful musician as part of Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers. He co-wrote their hit single, “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” a song he would play for Prince Harry in 2018, according to The Guardian.

“I saw Forrest Gump the other day. I am f**king Forrest Gump, man. That’s who I am,” Tommy tells HL with a smile. “I’ve been connected with everybody, especially in the rock and roll world. I’ve smoked up with every Beatle except Paul [McCartney]. I played on stage with Jimi Hendrix. He played bass; I played guitar. He came up to me and said, ‘Hey, do you mind if I sit in?’ This is at the height of his career in this world.”

“Now, he knew me before because he was in Seattle,” says Tommy. “I had an after-hours club in Vancouver that all the hip guys in Seattle would come up and eventually play. But because I was one of the club owners and a musician, too, that’s where we got our band.” His travels included seeing John Coltrane play a single song for forty-five minutes in San Francisco, listening in on a Lenny Bruce concert from the comedy club’s kitchen, and meeting The Jackson 5 before they blew up.


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♬ original sound – Cheech & Chong

“My life has been a series of events like Forrest Gump,” he remarks. “I met Muhammad Ali the same way. We were in Detroit now. Bobby’s got his apartment, and we have a contract with Motown. Bobby calls me up and says, ‘Hey man, guess what? The champ’s coming over to the house. I want you to meet him. Muhammad Ali.’ Because Bobby had gone to the Olympics with Muhammad Ali when he was in the Olympics.”

Unbeknownst to Bobby, Tommy had just spoken with a friend who claimed to have had a “night to remember” with the boxing icon. “And so, I drive over to Bobby’s place and park below and get in the elevator, and there’s Muhammad Ali. He’s in the elevator. Just the two of us. He doesn’t know who I am, so halfway up the elevator, I said, ‘Lady Scarlet says to say hi.’ His eyes got really big. He looked at me like I was a ghost, and before you could say anything, the elevator stopped.”

“We both go to the same apartment. And then, he looks at me. My first wife, Maxine, was at the apartment. And Muhammad Ali, he’s still looking at me like, ‘Who are you?’ And then he found out, and we did poses while taking pictures together. But that’s been my life.”

“Everything that I’ve done, I was ordained to do it. And I know it too,” he says before taking a moment to reflect. “My biggest problem, if I have a problem, is being too much at peace at all times.” When asked to explain, he shares how “the wife would feel neglected. My kids would feel that I don’t care [about life] —  because I don’t. You know what I mean? What I’ve learned is that everybody’s on their path. The best you can do is just be nice and make people feel good about themselves, no matter who they are.”

Tommy Chong (Courtesy Tommy Chong)

“I’ve been doing Cameos for people, especially older people with illnesses, and I tell them, ‘Hey, this is just one little blip in your journey.’ Death is just another experience,” says Tommy. “That’s all. It’s just another moment. We are energy. That’s what we are.”

There is wisdom, beauty, and truth in the words of Tommy Chong, all of which should be reflected and appreciated in the upcoming April 20 holiday. “I’ve been blessed all my life, and you can tell,” he concludes at the end of the chat. “People always ask me about my faith, and I said, ‘Well, I know there’s a God.’ And, they say, ‘How do you know that?’ And I say, ‘Have you seen my wife? Not only there’s a God, but he really likes me.’”

When getting in touch with your own higher power, consume responsibly and legally. Consult NORML for information about laws in your state, and make yourself aware of potential health risks. Do not indulge if you are under 21, and follow these guides on how to be responsible this 4/20.

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