We can’t all be relevant when we’re 80, and we won’t all be known for bringing an artistic and hilarious starting point to four decades of cannabis culture, but that’s what makes Tommy Chong so special. Chong is commemorating 40 years of Up in Smoke—Cheech and Chong’s 1978 film in which they unknowingly smuggle a van made entirely of marijuana from Mexico into the United States. Grammy-Award-winning Chong is now able to count a dedicated exhibit in the Grammy Museum in Downtown Los Angeles among his many accolades.
Bud.com asked Chong when he knew that his cannabis openness was making a splash in media back in the 1970s. He shares, “Cheech and I both saw the change in attitudes, and we were for the longest time the outlaw comedians. We weren’t allowed on The Tonight Show for instance, because the people on The Tonight Show were all drug addicts too and they were afraid we would out them.”
It’s easy to see why some famous people avoid being vocal about cannabis, but deterring others is hopefully a thing of the past.
Pointing out the good parts about legalization, Chong talks about medical access to cannabis for ailing people, but he jokes about the shift in his career, “The bad part is that it kind of ruined Cheech and I’s career because we made a career off of being the stoners that run from the cops but now we don’t have that job anymore.”
One of the things that kept Chong’s love of cannabis in the spotlight was a bout with federal authorities in the early 2000s, before recreational cannabis was a glimmer in Colorado’s eye.
Being prosecuted for what amounted to bong sales was at first an obstacle, but Chong sees it differently, “You know who’s gonna arrest you for a pipe, but I was wrong. But it was all ordained. I was meant to do this. It’s all a part of the grand plan. I wasn’t an activist before I went to jail, then I went to jail, I came out, and I’m an activist.”
Tommy Chong may be most known for his relationship to cannabis, but he is a multi-talented artist, both on and off the screen, and directing films is his favorite way to do creative work. Like many cannabis users of notoriety, a love for the plant can’t hinder true success or talent if society can accept it. Here’s hoping that it takes far fewer than 40 years to make the same amount of progress.