By Tora Matys
Tommy Chong is a comedian, actor and cannabis activist. Born in Edmonton and raised in Calgary, now living in California, Chong is a name recognized in most households across North America. You may have a hazy memory of sitting in your parent’s basement watching Up In Smoke, one of his many movies with his comedy partner Cheech Marin.
The iconic Cheech and Chong duo have been the forerunners of stoner comedy since the ’70s, a time when smoking weed was still generally frowned upon, but with the recent legalization of marijuana, people are changing their views on ‘the devil’s lettuce.’
I got to talk to Chong about his history with cannabis and his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana.
Q: What was it like growing up in a generation where weed wasn’t legal?
A: I grew up in Calgary and that’s where I started smoking weed, I was 17 years old and still in high school. Weed really changed my life you know, even though it was highly illegal at that time and not that available, I still found enough of it to get me through to where I am today.
The whole thing about marijuana is it changed my life in so many ways. I was always kind of on a health kick, but when I discovered marijuana it really kept me from doing any other drug. You know how they used to say it’s a gateway drug? Well, in my case I got scared of all the other drugs. I tried a little cocaine, but I didn’t like the smell to tell you the truth. And heroin scared the hell out of me because I could see first hand what heroin did to you. And alcohol made me sick and eventually I quit drinking totally.
Marijuana actually helped me quit smoking cigarettes because I started smoking when I was about I’ll guess 15 years old. When I was 21 I quit smoking cigarettes and I used marijuana to get off tobacco because every time I felt like a cigarette I would light up a joint. It took a year to get it out of my system, but you know I’m tobacco-free and I’m 81 years old now and I credit my longevity to marijuana.
Q: I was actually wondering if weed contributed to your longevity…
A: Well the thing is about marijuana, it does affect your memory in a sense that it keeps you focused on one task at a time, were alcohol tends to make you silly and stupid.
Like I said about my health, especially after I got cancer, I got prostate cancer in ‘05. And that turned into rectal cancer and then I had an operation, but it was CBD (cannabidiol) and the marijuana or THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that kept me off opioids and aided in my recovery.
Now I’m cancer-free and going strong, working and doing tours, and getting ready to do a television show. I’m working harder now than I ever did 20 years ago. So you know, marijuana is my go-to medicine…I don’t even call it a drug anymore it’s just my medicine.
Q: So what’s your opinion on legal cannabis and how it’s changed society?
A: The thing is with a lot of dispensaries when they legalized it, I went down to Colorado and one of the things I noticed at all of the dispensaries was the line up to get in and to get their medicine was mostly sick people. People on crutches, people with MS, people with epilepsy and people with problems…all sorts of problems, and they are there to get their medicine. Because all the pills and the crap the pharmacies were selling didn’t work and the one thing that worked is cannabis.
Now when you go to all the dispensaries you got people there that are more knowledgeable than 90% of the doctors and pharmacists around the world on this [medical maijuana] because they know from their patients that they service because they are the ones that tell them about their epilepsy, or their paranoia or whatever ailments, and they’ll tell them what they need and then one someone else comes in with the same kind of symptoms then the budtender knows what to say to them. I’ve always said this years ago, marijuana will save the world, and I’ve been proven right now.
Q: Is the packaging at dispensaries in the States the same as up here with the excessive plastics?
A: Oh, yeah, the states have gone just as nutty. You know they got these child-proof containers that only a child can open. Us old folk you know, I mean we can’t open them. I’ve had so much problem opening these packages and so you know I need a little kid to help me because they have the strength in their hands.
But you know I haven’t paid for it [weed] in a while, I mean I paid $14 two years ago for a marijuana cigarette because it was my brand…which is another thing I was going to talk about it.
I’m not allowed to promote my name in Canada because I’m a celebrity. We were in Montreal and the hall owner and the police made us stop selling t-shirts because they had a marijuana leaf on it Now how stupid is that? But you know, that’s the way the laws are now, but it’ll smooth out over the years.
And what they’ve done, the way the bureaucrats are doing it they’ve kept the black market industry alive bigger than ever. Now that it’s legal, rather than going through the trouble of the dispensaries and that you know, you can grow your own and a lot of people do, or you know people that have grown it and you co-op like we did years ago and now there’s no problems.
Of course, I had to ask him…
Q: What’s your favourite weed strain?
A: I haven’t found it yet…and when I do, I’m going to call it ‘Haven’t Found It Yet’.