Tommy Chong has been around so long that he’s a cannabis icon, not just to baby boomers who fondly remember the Cheech and Chong albums and movies, but also to the zillions of fans of That 70s Show, where he starred as Leo (an old hippie who sells weed1). More recently, Chong appeared on Dancing With The Stars, as well as doing voice acting in animated TV shows and even children’s films (Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and Zootopia) over the decades. While some of today’s cannabis activists have derided the Cheech and Chong culture because of their perpetuation of negative stereotypes, it’s important to remember that those albums and movies were all for fun, and that – at the time – those stereotypes did not even exist. While prohibitionists have indeed attempted to use Cheech and Chong movies as “proof that stoners are lazy and stupid”, the joke’s really on them: Cheech and Chong are actors, no matter how much marijuana they smoked in real life, and “Up In Smoke” is no more a documentary of stoners than “Airplane!” represents a true look at life in airline cockpits.
Few news stories have made it clear, but Tommy Chong is a quiet hero who chose to go to federal prison in 2003 to protect his family. From Wikipedia (emphasis ours): In 2003 Chong became caught up in two American investigations, code-named Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter, which tried to trace drug traffic and users through businesses selling drug paraphernalia, mostly bongs. Operation Pipe Dream was run from Pittsburgh. US Attorney for Western Pennsylvania Mary Beth Buchanan oversaw the case. The estimated cost of Operation Pipe Dream was over $12 million and included the resources of 2,000 law enforcement officers. Fifty-five companies that sold drug paraphernalia over the Internet were the subject of the investigation, and Nice Dreams was one of them. Chong was charged for his part in financing and promoting Chong Glass/Nice Dreams, a company started by his son Paris. His case never went to trial, as his attorney negotiated a plea agreement with the US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania’s Office. He admitted to distributing 7,500 bongs and water pipes on the Internet through Nice Dreams, a family company. Chong agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia in exchange for non-prosecution of his wife, Shelby, and his son, Paris. Chong cooperated with the government and was the first of the Operation Pipe Dreams defendants to plead guilty. Then we have Chong’s incarceration and cancer. In the interview, Tommy talks about the prison that was built over oil fields, and that’s true, but it understates the case. The entire town of Taft, where the prison is located, is actually located over the oil fields, as well as several nearby towns. When you factor in the toxic waste dump, it’s easier to understand why lots of people in that area have become suspicious that it was located in a poor Hispanic area, and why many babies have died or been born with mortal defects there.
By the way, here’s where the prison is located, and here’s the dump. You can easily zoom out, and turn the satellite/Google Earth data on, and see how the dump is right up the valley from the prison, so that the air will blow straight down there under the right conditions.
The facts revealed in this interview will likely surprise and even upset some people, but it’s good to remember that Tommy Chong is still with us, and that there are undoubtedly few people on the planet as committed to cannabis as he is. – DF Tommy Chong smokingTC: This is Tommy Chong speaking.
OH: Hello Mr. Tommy Chong! How are you? TC: I’m very well, thank you. How are you?
OH: Okay! I’m really happy to talk to you for Beyond Chronic today. First of all…how is your health, man? TC: Good! Yeah, I just got a clean bill. Just had my blood test, everything’s good, looks like I’m cancer-free at the moment., so that’s good news.
OH: That’s awesome news! Since we’re mostly a medical website, can you give us some details about how you were using cannabis for your cancer and when you started using it medically?
TC: Well, I’ve been using cannabis, you know, for many, many years now, over 50 years. And I’m not a huge smoker, but I smoke it when I got it, you know, one of those kind of guys. A few years ago, I got put in [prison] for bongs…that was in ’03. And I think that’s where the cancer started, because the [prison] was built near a toxic waste dump near Bakersfield, over an old oil field, where they used to hold the oil. And they have a thing there called “Valley Fever“, which is a wasting disease. When I was incarcerated, every time the wind blew, they would make all the inmates go inside because of the bad quality of the air.
And so it was during that time, you know, when I got out of jail, then I started having symptoms and then I went to the doctor, and I found out I had prostate cancer. It’s a slow-acting cancer, so after a biopsy and a few consultations with different experts, we decided to not do anything. And then move forward to around 2013 or 2014, I got asked to be on a show called Dancing With The Stars, and it was physically very taxing, a lot of stress. And I think that’s where I contracted the cancer of the rectum.
And up until then, for my prostate cancer, I was doing a very holistic diet, you know. A lot of green, a lot of vegetables. I quit eating meat, I quit drinking alcohol, and I think it helped. But when I was diagnosed with the rectal cancer, that was right after Dancing With The Stars. I had a choice of going strictly with the cannabis – which I was talked out of. I have a lot of friends who are doctors, and they talked me out of it. They said that no one has survived rectal cancer with marijuana. So then I opted for the operation, and the chemo treatment, and the radiation…as well as the cannabis. Now, I think more than anything, the cannabis has helped me heal, because once I was operated on – you know, it was a five hour operation – and they closed off the rectum, and they gave me a colostomy bag. And I lost some 30-odd pounds, almost 40 pounds. So I was quite skinny. I went down to almost 130. And so I ended up coming back from that. TC: And so right after the operation, as soon as I got home, I got off the hard drugs and I got on to the marijuana. And it helped me right off the bat. I had no appetite in the hospital; that’s where I lost all my weight. But as soon as I got home and started smoking pot, I got my appetite back.
And then the other thing I learned while I was recovering in the hospital: I was in a lot of…discomfort, you know, from laying immobile for 5 hours while they operated on me, and then laying on my back after that to recover. And so I asked the doctor if it was OK if I did crunches, you know, like abdominal work. Because I could do that, I could do planks, I could do a lot of exercises laying on my back. And the doctor gave me the green light. So I would spend a great deal of my time doing crunches, and ab work, and working up a nice sweat. And so I think that really helped with my recovery, because it was within a month that I was walking and playing golf and getting back all the weight I’d lost. And now, like I said, I’m cancer-free.
I was injecting some cannabis oil right after the operation, to help with my healing. But that’s untested, and I stopped doing it, because I was a little worried about injecting anything in my body without knowing exactly where it came from, and everything.
I smoke a little pot, every day, and I’m healthy as can be. I just finished a golf tournament yesterday, and I did the whole 18 holes. I need to rest quite a bit, you know. Whenever I do anything, I need to take 15 or 20 minutes, maybe longer, to regroup.
But I’m dancing tango, and I’m playing golf, and I’m quite active, you know, and for my age and everything, and what I’ve gone through, I’m very happy. And I look good. I can not only do that workout, but I can do upper and lower body workouts with weights. In fact, I’m working on an exerciser that’s going to be on the market, for old people. For guys like me that have limited abilities to work out and stay in shape.
More than anything, the weed really helped with my mental state, because marijuana works on the brain. And if anything, it soothes the brain. You know that old joke about potheads having bad memories? Well, the bad memories are like pain, discomfort, and fear. So you lose all that, and the body reacts by healing faster and stronger. Tommy ChongOH: Wow (long pause, because this was pretty heavy).
Well, I’m really glad to hear you’re better, because when I heard the cancer came back, it sounded pretty dire. So this is very good news.
TC: Yeah! In fact, a lot of websites had me [as] dead.
OH: Well, all these guys are trying to make money off of any damn thing, you know.
TC: (laughs) Yeah, yeah, that’s a lot of hits, isn’t it?
OH: Yeah, I wasn’t even going to bring up what happened to you in 2003, because you really got railroaded on that one.1
TC: Well, I have no real proof on that, but my wife and I both agreed that I was healthy when I went in, and unhealthy when I came out, so that’s the only conclusion we could reach.
Although the diet was good. I had a special friend, you know, that worked the garden, we had our own garden, so I was eating healthy. But it was just the atmosphere that I was around, that toxic waste dump that they built the prison on, I’m quite sure that had an effect.
OH: Oh, yeah. And also, just being in there is so much stress, even if you weren’t in one of those nasty prisons where guards beat the shit out of people, it’s still very bad for your whole approach to life when you’re sitting there in a cage like that.
TC: It can be. You know, I actually turned it into a religious retreat, because we were allowed to…well, if you kept your nose clean and you behaved yourself, you had a lot of freedoms. Because it was minimum security; “Camp Cupcake”, we called it. It’s a Bernie Madoff kind of prison. And I was treated like a celebrity, so I never had that kind of stress. But the stress on my family…my wife having to fend for herself in this world…and that [eventually] worked out really well. But having the federal government come after you for something as innocuous as water pipes, you know…that was a little much.
George Bush, he paid the price. He’s in disgrace now, so the karma really came back on those guys. And [as far as] the cancer…I look on everything with a very optimistic eye. Because I’m a body builder by trade, you know, that was my intent all my life. As soon as I discovered weightlifting, all I wanted to do – my plan in life – was to work out, lay on the beach, and get high…smoke dope. And that’s really what I’m doing.
OH: Well, that brings up another idea…the election couldn’t get much crazier. Have you thought of running for president?
TC: (laughs) Well, first of all, I’m not American-born, so I couldn’t pass that test. What I did, I endorsed Bernie Sanders, but you know, my take on the election is that I lived through Nixon and Reagan. We survived Nixon and Reagan and George Bush, and so we can survive anything that comes along. But I really sincerely believe that Donald Trump and the Clintons made a deal, and Trump said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you elected. Just watch me.”
OH: Well, it’s pretty crazy out there, that’s for sure.
So your name is synonymous with smoking, but because you’ve been very concerned about your health, I was wondering whether you use a vaporizer at all.
TC: I use a bong. I kind of came up with my own bong made out of kombucha bottles. You know, there’s a kombucha that I really like, it’s a fermented drink that they sell in Whole Foods. And the bottle makes a perfect water pipe, because you can take it apart and clean it real easy.
So my preferred method of ingesting my medicine is the Tommy Chong Not-A-Bong. I don’t call them “bongs”, because they’re more like art pieces. Just before I got busted, I had an art show with my bongs, and I called them art, and the Feds never touched me! (both laugh)
OH: Man…you just can’t really get into their heads. They’re in some other world. All of us heads from the 60s kind of gave up on legalization back in the 70s after NORML screwed the pooch with that crazy shit that went on. So what can you say now that it’s finally starting to happen?
TC: Well, you know, everything takes time. There’s a big shift in our whole way of living, and it started maybe 10 years ago when [smartphones] came into existence. Up until then, we were at the mercy of the press, and so-called experts that would tell us what to think and how to think. But now the [smartphone] has freed everybody, and so everybody gets better. No matter what you say, people will check you out on their phone. My take is that legalization [started coming about] because of that.
So, because they found out that marijuana works well on little babies with epilepsy, Sanjay Gupta of CNN did a big report on that. And when they found out that marijuana does have medical uses, it debunked all the myths and all the lies that the establishment had spread around about marijuana.
Marijuana: The New Bitcoin? And so the policies have to change, because everything is exposed. We see the corrupt prison system, we see the corrupt police system, we see the corruption in the government, from the top on down. You know, it’s built based on lies. However, the marijuana industry itself, because it was an underground industry, showed us the way we could exist on this planet. Because marijuana has become like currency. Anytime you grow a crop like marijuana, or wheat, or corn, or anything that people consume on a daily basis, you’re [getting] into a huge economic area. By making marijuana illegal, the agricultural people can’t grab hold of it like they did with corn and wheat. So those companies are scrambling around trying to get hold of it, but they can’t, because it’s a cottage industry, and it will always be a cottage industry. Because the minute the big companies try to make it their own, like they did with soybeans…like Monsanto, they put their own patent on seeds, and you can’t do that with marijuana.
And it grows everywhere in the world. And it really is currency, if you think about it. Like when Mexicans sneak across the border, they’re more apt to carry a bag of pot then they are a fistful of money. Because the pot can be exchanged for money, anywhere in America. Anywhere in the world! You got a bag of pot, there’s someone who wants to buy it from you. So in a weird way, marijuana has [become] and is becoming the new currency of the world.
OH: I know some people like Bitcoin, and some people like good seeds, right?
TC: (laughs) Yeah! You can smoke it, you can eat it, you can wear it, it’s a perfect plant!
OH: I’d love to talk to you all day about weed, but your PR people really want me to ask about your new emoji app.
TC: Well, the emoji…there again, it’s like Bitcoin. It’s a way of selling my brand, with a very easy price on people. But it’s my brand, it’s my signature, it’s who I am. My emojis are spreading around the world very quickly, and people are picking up on them.
OH: It’s very cool.
TC: Yeah, they’re very cool. I think I’m the first to do weed-friendly emoji.
OH: What about your Chong’s Choice strains?
TC: How Chong’s Choice came about…we were approached by people who wanted to do strains. Like there’s a strain out in Colorado called the Chong Star, after Dancing With The Stars. But that’s only one strain. And what we did was we got a business partner who came in and put a distribution center for us: Chong’s Choice. All the top growers in the different states, they contact us and we make sure that they’re vetted, that what they grow is the best. And once we find the good growers, then we put our brand and packaging on it, and it hits all the dispensaries, and eventually it’ll be hitting the public, as the laws change.
But right now, like the Marlboro Man, I’m gonna have the Chong’s Choice brand for pot. OH: And who better, right?
TC: Who better?!
OH: Yeah! And it’s 4:20, man. It’s 4:20 PM and I’m talking to you. It’s great.
TC: Isn’t it great? Yeah! Something good always happens at 4:20 for me.
OH: Well, I don’t want to keep you. I just want to say…thanks for being you.
TC: (laughs) Oh, you’re welcome, my friend. Call me any time.
OH: Thanks…and here’s my catchphrase: Nugs and hugs!
TC: Ha, nugs and hugs, I love that. Take care.
OH: Thank you!
This was shared with us at /CBD
by the owners of www.beyondchronic.com
. We talked with them, and they were willing to let us put the article on here completely. They are a great site, and have good articles. This was the full interview. Read more about it here. http://beyondchronic.com/2016/06/tommy-chong-beyond-chronic-interview-part-one/
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