After nearly four decades, Tommy Chong can finally say: 'I told you so'

After nearly four decades, Tommy Chong can finally say: 'I told you so'

VicesOctober 04, 2016 By Brian Frederick

Tommy Chong is sitting in his backyard overlooking a beautiful western forest, taking a short break between building bongs out of recycled materials in his garage and quality testing more of his “top-shelf” Chong’s Choice products. “It’s a good life I have,” he says, adding that everything he has, including the ability to still wake up every morning, is attributed to weed.

“The Chong family is a walking reminder of how you can use pot to your benefit,” he says. “I’ve done it in so many ways; it’s saved my life too, you know when I had the cancer operations and all of that. I wouldn’t have been able to make it without marijuana in my system.”

He says the doctors who saved him from a frightening bout of cancer in 2012 encouraged his cannabis use, even though none of them had the power to write him a prescription for it. Radiologists, oncologists, every one of them, he says, never disputed the fact that marijuana helped him in healing his prostate cancer, and later colorectal cancer.

At damn near 80-years-old, he’s hardly taken being sick as a sign to slow down and succumb to his final days in retirement. In fact, he’s in full recovery and is working harder now than he ever has, mostly consulting with his newly branded cannabis strains he’s putting on shelves soon in the Colorado marketplace.

To be released in early November, Chong’s Choice products are hand picked by the stoner icon himself. The sativa (Durban Haze), indica (Grape Stomper) and hybrid (Blue Dream), have all been grown under strict guidelines put in place by Chong. He says he wants to have the finest product out there, utilizing sustainable features like composting, soil amending and solar power to lead the industry in being green.

Pun intended.

“The first question you ask is ‘What is it?’” he says. “Where did it come from? Is it indoor or outdoor? What kind of fertilizer did you use? Did you get attacked by any mold or have any insects get in it?”

To find growers of his three initial strains here in Colorado wasn’t easy, however. He claims to have met guys in the business that were just in it for the money, trying to undercut their way to the top. He explains that he’s wise enough now he can see through the bullshit, phonies never really hide themselves well in the cannabis family, anyway …

“One guy didn’t even have weed in his office, “ he says over a laugh. “Those guys are like the Donald Trumps of the weed industry.”

Trump. It’s another topic of contention for the politically motivated celebrity. Like many Americans, Chong doesn’t think much of Trump as a presidential candidate. Why would he? The smarmy New York business tycoon who was given millions by his father to start a company has nothing in common with Canadian born Chong, a man who has spent his life as a type-casted, weed-smoking hippie — roles that marked him as an artist, but would eventually solidify his namesake into stoner culture worldwide, the impetus to his current business ventures.

But he isn’t worried about the country if it falls to the Republican Party. He remains collected and hopeful about it.

“You gotta remember, we lived through Nixon,” he exclaims. “Nixon makes Trump look like a liberal. He was such a horrible thief. He was the one who created the DEA over the objections of all his advisors that he commissioned to do a report on marijuana. So thanks to Nixon, we’ve got years of warfare and sickness and death and destruction.”

As far as he’s concerned, we’re at least on the tail end of a history lesson he hopes we’ll soon only be reading about in textbooks rather than living it day-to-day watching younger generations spend decades behind bars or dying for a plant that’s completely misunderstood.

“[Trump’s] only problem, like so many people, is just ignorance,” Chong adds. “He’s just unenlightened. And everybody that follows him, they’re in the darkness too. Until they manage to find the light, which they will eventually, they will repeat all of the stuff that they’ve been repeating.”

It’s a mantra that comes out of his mouth like he’s said it a thousand times before. And spending almost 4 decades as the de facto stereotype, he’s had to defend himself just as much. But it’s a vice he never saw as being dangerous, or even wrong to support. For forty years, rather than bow out and allow a lack of knowledge prevail, he’s spent that time teaching those who ever questioned it.

It’s taken a lifetime for the rest of the world to catch up with his own ideals.

“I never really … it was legal all my life, to me,” Chong explains. “The thing I really noticed through my years was how ignorant people were about the plant. Everybody would take anecdotes as reality. And that’s what they did back in the day — people are too lazy and just consider it fact. What we need to do, as people, everybody, is research. Since they’ve invented the cell phone, there’s no excuse for ignorance. No excuse for lying.”

The sphere is different now than what it was in 1978 when Cheech and Chong’s first of many stoner classics, Up In Smoke, was released. Had he been pushing pounds of weed in various states then like he is now, Tommy Chong would no doubt have been cuffed and spent the remainder of his life in a 6x9, his identity replaced with a county-issued number. Forgotten.

But it’s 2016, and his name is on Chong’s Choice, with new and completely legal products coming soon to Colorado shelves next month.

“I’ve had worse jobs,” he jokes before going back to enjoying the view of his forest in the backyard. “We live good lives, don’t we?”