Most counterculture activists don’t actually get to witness the revolution they helped inspire. Tommy Chong is an exception.
When the Edmonton-born half of the Cheech and Chong comedy duo got his start performing his cannabis-inspired comedy in Vancouver back in the 1960s, simple possession of marijuana could land you in jail for seven years in Canada.
With the comedy team reunited and scheduled to kick off their O Cannabis tour of Canada in honour of legalization at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall on September 22, Chong finds himself back in the country where his activism started.
Chong hasn’t just made us laugh over the last half-century. He’s been at the forefront of the fight for legalization.
His films have not only helped highlight the stigma associated with cannabis use, his advocacy has blazed a trail that has helped pave the way for many of the cannabis freedoms North Americans enjoy today. It’s been a long, strange trip that has included a nine-month stint in jail in 2003 for the “Pope of Pot.”
That’s the name Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials gave Chong during Operation Pipe Dreams, the DEA investigation which resulted in charges against 55 people for selling “drug paraphernalia.”
Tommy Chong’s Prison Experience
It was the height of the Bush Administration’s so-called “War On Drugs” and Chong was targeted for his outspoken advocacy. He went to prison for nine months after admitting to distributing some 7,500 bongs through on online distribution company. He signed a plea deal with the feds which prevented the government from taking action against his wife and son for their part in what he Chong called the family business.
During his time in prison, he wrote The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint, an indictment of the Bush Administrations failed War On Drugs. It only got Chong into more trouble.
In 2008, federal agents seized some 10,000 DVD copies of a/k/a Tommy Chong, the documentary chronicling his time behind bars. The operation was part of an investigation into “detoxification products” led by the same state prosecutor that sent Chong to jail in 2003.
In 2012, Chong revealed he had prostate cancer and had gone drug-free. He credited hemp oil treatments with keeping the condition at bay. He began to use cannabis again in 2015 after he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Chong decided to name his colostomy bag after Trump “because he’s always so full of shit.” Tommy Chong praises weed for allowing him to live in the present.
Today, he continues to advocate for cannabis as a member of the advisory board of NORML in the United States and its efforts in support of cannabis decriminalization and reparations for people of colour. He also boasts his own line of cannabis. “Chong’s Choice,” is currently available in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Washington with plans to overgrow Canada soon.