By Ted Smith
Fame and fortune are the goals of many youth, but few senior citizens truly get to look back at a long career and feel they have reached the top. Not so for Cheech and Chong, unquestionably the most well-known potheads on the planet. These two have reached the peak of cannabis stardom, gaining almost cult-like status among many young and old stoners alike.
Given the limited understanding of most people in North America, it is no wonder these two have become so popular. For those who do not smoke cannabis and have not been properly exposed to its use in everyday life, Cheech and Chong’s films and albums provided a glimpse into a world foreign to them. For the rest of us, their comedy act gave us a chance to laugh at ourselves and the awkward situations prohibition puts us in.
During my youth these guys were superstars. Many of my old friends will remember a Cheech and Chong party I once threw in the basement of my parents’ house, where everyone allowed in had to have a minimum amount of hash or pot to smoke. Watching their movies together in this crowded, smoke-filled room was one of the best party experiences I ever created.
Meeting the famous duo of Cheech and Chong would be a dream come true for most cannabis activists. Getting a chance to interview them together should be a huge break for anyone’s career in the cannabis scene, as fans flock to them and everything they do. Unfortunately, my opportunity to meet the biggest potheads of our era has been, in retrospect, a disappointment.
Going into the interview I was trying to take a positive approach. It was tempting to ask if they were aware that by portraying cannabis users as fools, these comedians have helped prohibitionists convince the public that smoking weed makes you stupid. This has been a very strategic move by the US government, who had to change their initial reefer madness campaign when it became clear that cannabis did not cause people to become raving killers. Making herb lovers appear like idiots was an easy way for Hollywood to entertain the masses, and drive propaganda down the throats of the unsuspecting viewers.
In many ways, Cheech and Chong have been a great tool for the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA has not even had to pay them to fulfill their mandate. Instead, this comedy team has made a good living entertaining people, leaving the activists to fight the terrible stereotypes they love to portray.
Our meeting was just before a big show in Victoria, oddly enough their only performance in BC. Though I was told the interview would be about an hour before the show, ultimately Tommy did not arrive until 45 minutes before show time and then had to eat before we talked. When I did finally have a chance to sit down with them the only available room appeared to be a small dressing room that Tommy joked felt like a bathroom.
Of course, I should be eternally grateful for the opportunity to meet them at all. By the end of the evening, though, it was clear to me that instead of being one of the highlights of my career, meeting Cheech and Chong turned out to be high on my list of lifetime letdowns. While I appreciate the efforts others made to get us together, and for the free ticket to the show, ultimately the experience has left me with another bitter taste of Hollywood. But I should have expected it.
In hindsight, trying to have a serious interview with these two was the wrong approach. Instead, I should have asked questions about sex, racism and self-indulgence. To a certain degree I tried to ask some entertaining questions, but this was supposed to be my one chance to learn more about the men the world identifies with smoking pot, and I was not going to spend the entire time joking around.
Personally, I take cannabis very seriously. I have seen this plant save lives. I see it ease suffering and improve moods every day. I know the potential it has for agricultural communities. I have seen the frustration caused by prohibition. I have seen the drain on valuable public resources in the enforcement of these laws. Cannabis is a very important part of my life, keeping me healthy and strong, and if more people around the world could understand its benefits we would see massive global changes that would dramatically improve the way our society functions. It is not just about getting high. Not at all.
Even for Tommy Chong it is not all about getting high and making jokes anymore, or at least it should not be. He used cannabis oil to help get his prostate cancer under control. When I asked him how he was able to regain his health, though, he gave more credit to the diet suggested to him by Dr. Neil McKinney than he did to the cannabis oil. To be fair, Dr. McKinney is the best in this field in the world. He has written the bible for people suffering with various forms of cancer, and who are interested in using naturopathic medicines, herbs and diet: NATUROPATHIC ONCOLOGY.
Granted, it is hard to be totally serious when you are talking about sticking things up your bum. “At first when I began using suppositories it was hard,” Chong recalled. “It was embarrassing. But after the second time it was like, oh, this is fun. Started looking forward to it. Turned the lights down. Put on some jazz.” That was about as serious as Chong could get with me.
One would assume that after using cannabis to fight off a close call with cancer and spending nine months in jail for selling bongs, Chong would be more determined to help make cannabis legal, but that does not seem to be the case at all. During the show, though, he joked about how jail was not so bad for him because he is Tommy Chong. No doubt he was treated as well as one can be while still behind bars, but it was rather lame to hear him joke about being thrown in a cage when he was not even selling drugs.
Since the interview was rushed I was not able to ask questions about their political activities, but a broader look at their work shows little effort to help cannabis actually become legal. Of course, being known for being potheads opens the door for others to ask them their opinion of the law, but rather than doing benefits for cannabis reform or using their fame to promote legalization campaigns this duo thinks it is all one big joke. A quick look through the posts on Tommy Chong’s facebook page shows that they lack any intellectual arguments to change the laws, or research the potential medical benefits. They focus instead on his celebrity status.
To be fair, Tommy Chong at least smokes some cannabis. Cheech Martin does not really appear interested in cannabis at all, and has seemed to do his best to distance himself from the very subculture that has worshipped him. When I tried to ask a serious question of him about whether or not the drug war had negatively affected his family, I should not have been surprised by his response.
“We are Mexican so we have thrived with the War On Drugs”
In fact, one would wonder what Cheech and Chong will do if cannabis becomes legal and the public no longer finds their immature antics funny. No doubt teenagers will always be drawn to watch their old movies, but hopefully the duo will do a better job with their new movie than they did with their Victoria show. It was full of decades old material, some straight from their old movies.
We need celebrities and public figures of all types to speak out against the prohibition of cannabis and in favour of legalizing the herb. Certainly there will always be time to make fun of the cannabis culture and the silly things we do, but there are also times we need to be serious so long as good people are being thrown in jail for this wonderful plant. It would be wonderful if the two celebrities most known around the world as stoners could drop their routine for a minute and take the time to help the movement out once in a while.