By Melanie Erbar
If you ask any stoner who the OG’s of cannabis culture are, they’ll likely say Snoop Dogg, B Real or Cheech and Chong. But if we’re ranking these famed personalities by age, then Tommy Chong wins the race by far. At 82 years of age, the Canadian actor, who rose to fame as part of the Grammy-winning comedy duo Cheech and Chong, is more active than ever. While advocating for cannabis use on and off the screen and running his pot business Chong’s Choice like a well-oiled machine, he also managed to beat cancer and win a Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.
And how does he do it all?
Well, Mary Jane might have something to do with it.
One Puff Was All It Took
Tommy Chong wasn’t born a pothead, but since his first taste of the herb during his senior year in high school, the comedic actor and director knew that formal education wasn’t for him. Entertainment and weed seemed more appealing. Following a short musical career, where he performed alongside the Jackson 5 with his band Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, the Calgary native landed in the film business, which would propel him to stardom.
After meeting Richard Marin, better known as Cheech, the two formed a comedy duo and starred in the 1978 film Up in Smoke, embodying the cliche stoner stereotypes that became an undenyable part of cannabis culture across the globe. After several productions together, some of which Chong also directed, the friends parted ways to take on other projects.
But they both maintained a strong tie to their favourite herb.
The “pope of weed,” as some call the comedian, continued to appear on screen in That 70s Show and Dancing With The Stars, amongst others, but also became a fervent advocate of pro-bud legislation off the screen.
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In fact, Chong’s activism landed him in jail in 2003 for supporting cannabis paraphernalia by distributing and selling bongs online. But being incarcerated only made the actor grow louder in his activism. He even turned down a pardon by former U.S. President Barack Obama, because he didn’t consider himself guilty of a crime.
As he told the SF Weekly: “my way of fighting unjust incarceration is that no matter where I am — at a dinner party with Republicans or very wealthy people, for example — I always mention the fact that I was in prison. I bring it up all the time. It’s a badge of honor for me, and more importantly, it creates a conversation.”
From Activism To Budding Business
Even though Chong had always spoken about the healing medicinal qualities of cannabis, his battle with prostate cancer and rectal cancer put his beliefs to the test. While he underwent the traditional treatments of chemo and radiation, as well as an operation, he says his regular weed intake helped him ultimately recover by steering clear of opioids. So, after regaining his health, he jumped on board of the legal production train in 2016 and founded his company, Chong’s Choice.
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The business, licensed under his son Paris Chong and partner Jon-Paul Cowen’s company Chongson Inc., took off right away, with the beloved comedian as the brand’s face and a wide distribution system that reaches across California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Montana, Washington, and Arizona. They offer a variety of premium quality products, but it’s the distribution of the brand that sets them apart, putting Chong’s dream of easy access in the forefront. At 82 years old, it is fair to say that the stoner icon has left his mark as a cannabis lover and activist, earning him the Emerald Cup’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, just in case anyone ever doubted him.