Tommy Chong is mellow, man. He’s in recovery after a second bout with cancer and spends a lot of time lying out in the sun. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped working. In fact, he’s hustling harder than ever, staking his claim as an entrepreneur as he builds something of an empire with his son, Paris. A really, really chill empire, mind you, but the effect is still impressive. In addition to comedy, his new enterprises include: a talk show, social media stardom, political advocacy, a line of beverages, and a new Cheech and Chong film. Oh, and marijuana.
Lots and lots of marijuana.
Medicinal and recreational; flowers, buds, and oil; edibles and smokeables – all under the umbrella of his new brand, Chong’s Choice. Even the beverage,Chongwater, is infused with hemp. With sales of legal weed projected to hit $6.7 billion this year, he plans to both be a pioneer, and bask in the satisfaction of an old friend finally getting its day in the sun.
“We’re a distribution company,” he says of the brand. “We’ve found the best growers, tapped into their supply source, and used my name and celebrity to promote their product.” Paris chimes in to highlight the pricing and ethics: “We’re not charging a premium for this, either. We’re just trying to bring the best buds to the market.”
As of now, there are no other multi-territory, branded weed companies operating in America – Chong’s Choice is striding into the great, green unknown. But early signs are positive. In addition to strong sales, a majority of Americans support decriminalized use, and medical marijuana is already legal in 23 states. Chong thinks it’s only a matter of time before all the legal barriers fall.
But pot isn’t the only thing on his plate – or palate. He’s developed a taste for politics, and his recent endorsement of Bernie Sanders shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. He released a support video last week showcasing his signature humor:
“I love Bernie,” he says to me breezily (he says everything breezily). “I love everything about Bernie. But really I just want to revive Larry David’s career.” Throughout our conversation, Chong cracks similar jokes with his trademark disarming calmness. All of them land. Mellow as he is, he provides no ammunition for those who claim weed is a mind-killer.
But it’s not Bernie’s stance on weed that drew Chong’s interest; it’s his focus on financial accountability. Sanders is a recent convert to marijuana legalization. His public stance shifted only a few months ago, and while his team appreciates Chong’s support, the senator has not met or spoken to the comedian.Also of interest is Bernie’s push for sentencing reform. Chong did time in 2003 for his involvement in Paris’s water pipe business, which he claims was “all a political thing.” While in prison, he made an unlikely friend: Jordan Belfort, a.k.a. The Wolf Of Wall Street.
“He owes me his life,” Chong claims. “When I got him into writing books, he found himself. It was his therapy.” Whether the wolf is truly penitent is up for debate.Recent interviews suggest he still doesn’t understand why it was such a big deal (“He’s not autistic, but he could be,” says his personal guru). But Chong is willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to his old cellmate, in a way Sanders would likely balk at.
“Each person is an individual, everyone has a soul,” he intones. “When I met him he was just another jailbird. He bought into that premise of ‘more money will bring more happiness,’ and he found out it was the opposite. It’s an addiction. All these guys are addicts. They’re just addicted to money.”
Chong’s gentle humanism is balanced by Paris’s facility with business jargon. The two of them make an endearing pair, with the elder cracking jokes and the younger trying to fill the gaps with necessary pull-quotes. But Paris is also a caretaker, detailing the painful double-battle with cancer, including the cannabis-heavy treatment. Though fond of it, he makes it clear that they don’t view weed as a cure-all.
“A lot of people are so passionate about marijuana that they lose sight of other medicine. They say stupid shit like, ‘Stop the chemo, stop the radiation.’ They’re not doctors. We found the best surgeon, the best cancer people, and combined it with the best marijuana.”
And the fact that Chong’s illness comes after a lifetime of heavy smoking? Relax, man. Neither buys into the idea that marijuana causes cancer the way tobacco does (and, for the record, neither does the American Lung Association, though it does highlight other dangers of chronic toking). While Paris’s proclamations about evil pharma companies border on conspiracy theory, the two of them are united in their stance that “all marijuana is medicinal.”
And conspiracy isn’t an issue with their target audience, many of whom are vocal in their support of ‘suppressed statistics.’ Tommy has over 6 million followers across social media, and they’re already rallying to the news of his Sanders endorsement and Chong’s Choice. The duo is also aware that America’s perception of smoking – be it weed or tobacco – has shifted, especially among younger users. “Edibles, oils and [vaporized THC] are the future,” Paris admits.
It’s upon this bed of enthusiasm and pragmatism that Chong’s Choice rests: a personal fondness for the product meets a sensible business strategy. The occasional ill-planned thought (Paris at one point starts talking about how weed really ended the Vietnam war) doesn’t mar the veneer of passionate expertise.
And even if the green biz goes up in smoke, it won’t stop Chong from blazing ahead with other projects: his talk show and his documentary. Almost Legal With Tommy Chong is a send-up of late night shows, where he interviews weed aficionados like Danny Trejo and Hannibal Buress. The first season, amazingly, was shot while he was undergoing chemo and radiation. The second is in pre-production, with Paris taking point on directing and producing.
The documentary is slated for release next year, and details his career with his other half, Cheech Marin. After a lengthy separation, the two have reunited, and the film will be full of unreleased footage from their heyday as trailblazers.
In the meantime, Chong continues to brainstorm. He imagines a future where weed is so accepted that the military adopts dispensaries for mandated R&R (the military had no comment). Then: “I’m also working on a strain of weed that will go out and wash your car.” Honestly, I’m not sure if he’s kidding. He’s pretty high. But if anyone is to invent a form of sentient, industrious marijuana, it’s Tommy Chong.