Tommy Chong is like the aloof grandfather you never had—the aloof grandfather who happens to smoke a lot of weed and once spent nine months in prison. He tends to get lost in his own thoughts and periodically brings up world peace—but you can't blame the guy after 40+ years in the (pot-filled) spotlight. Chong's a legend, both in and out of the marijuana-centric world and has smoked with people you couldn't even fathom meeting.
Last week, Chong (who's now on Dancing With the Stars—what?!) and I covered the last four decades of his life in an interview I wish had never ended. He even suggested ways people can sneak weed on an airplane. Stayed tuned for that follow up story next week.
For now, come relive the high with me.
Alright Tommy, how high are you right now?
Oh I’m just high, I’m on a natural high…as soon as I start dancing on Dancing With The Stars, I’m high. It’s a natural adrenaline high that makes it hard to sleep at night—but thanks to melatonin...well, I do a ton of melatonin.
Do you remember the first time you smoked?
Absolutely. It was in a jazz club. I was given a joint and a Lenny Bruce record by a jazz bass player named Raymond. I think he is deceased now. He came back from California and he had a joint—well he had a lot of weed—but he gave me a joint and a jazz record.
Rough estimate...how much pot have you smoked in your life?
Probably half a ton I’d say—thats just a rough estimate. Anywhere from a ton to a half a ton.
What would America look like if pot was legalized throughout the States?
Pretty mellow. Pretty healthy. I think we’ve stumbled on something that helps America out. On the other hand, the munchies could make America very chubby. Once it’s legal everywhere, we’re going to find peace. There’s going to be peace in the world. World peace is good.
When that time comes, how should America smoke its weed?
My favorite is still the water pipe. I’ve come up with a necklace called the Not a Pipe. It’s a necklace and, because of my incarceration from water pipes, I’ve come up with a necklace and you can smoke out of it.
I’ve also designed it out of bamboo—and you can just stick it into a plastic water bottle and have an instant bong. That’s my favorite way to smoke. In a pinch, I’ll smoke a joint or smoke whatever you’ve got. I like the water pipe. It’s mellow, it’s cool, I like the sound and it mellows the smoke.
How do you feel about edibles?
You gotta be careful with edibles—one bite could put you in a coma for two days. I’ve done it. I was trying to get rid of some diseases and I’ve done it twice: once with prostate cancer and the other with the flu. I had the flu real bad, and I happened to be in Colorado, and I got an edible and it literally put me almost unconscious for a day and a half. But I got rid of the flu.
In a pinch, I’ll smoke a joint or smoke whatever you’ve got.
Let’s talk about Operation Pipe Dreams and how the FBI busted you.
I remember that I needed some kind of gimmick to get my career going again—little did I know, the Feds were getting ready to spend $12 million on busting me for bongs, because my son had a company called Chong Glass and it had my picture all over the bongs. The Feds had been to High Times and had a list of people selling paraphernalia.
I never thought I’d get jail time. I was naive and thought for sure I’d get house arrest. I was all happy, because I have a nice house with a pool and Internet. I was ready to stay here. But, instead, they put me in prison for 9 months. Except for one bad hour—when I crawled in bed for the first time in jail with 250 snoring, farting men—it wasn’t all that bad. It turned out to be a very positive experience.
And you famously roomed with The Wolf of Wall Street's Jordan Belfort!
He became my cellmate and he used to tell me bedtime stories. We’d be separate during the day [but] at night, he’d start talking—next thing you know, he’d start telling me about his exploits. They were incredible.
In the meantime, I was writing my own book and Jordan saw what I was doing...the best way to lead is by example. I gave him a little writing tip: if you want your writing to be different, it can’t be just some ordinary experience. It has to be an extraordinary experience that happened to you. So, now he gives me credit about his book anywhere he goes. All I did was be an example for him.
Prison turned out to be a very positive experience.
In the 1990s, there was a huge rumor on the Internet that you died.
Oh, the death rumor! People go through that...I don’t know what the cultural thing is. Trolls? I think they were talking about Cheech—he was a lot more unhealthy than I was, and [he's] half-dead.
Do you guys still hang out?
Oh yeah. We work together, we’re on our never-ending farewell tour. The eighth annual farewell tour, like Cher. And, you know, Cheech & Chong were people’s first introduction to some racy stuff. We were the big brothers who turned them on to weed. It’s kind of an honor to be that influential—in a sneaky kind of way.
Who was the best celebrity to smoke with?
I have to say George Harrison. George went out of his way to smoke with me. I almost smoked with John, but he had immigration problems and didn’t want to. Ringo was in rehab, and I haven’t smoked with Paul yet. Every chance we got, we’d hook up with some good weed and pass the joint back and forth.
Cheech & Chong introduced people to some racy stuff. We...turned them on to weed.
How about Snoop Dogg?
Of course! But that’s like smoking with 10 Willie Nelsons. Snoop consumes weed. As tall as he is...it’s nonstop with Snoop. I did a movie with him called Car Wash and we smoked one afternoon—he’s a cool guy, but he’s hard to understand. He starts talking about rap sh*t. I just smile and nod.
Have you ever snuck weed on an airplane before?
Many times! Accidentally mostly. I’ll reach in my pocket and go “oh sh*t!” Once I went on a cruise and realized I had a little bit of weed and a pipe...and I forgot I had it! Then we’re docking in Long Beach and there’s a customs person. I was ready to run off the boat. The customs woman searched me, but she missed the pipe in the little pocket on the side.
Most of the people who find weed keep it—it’s one of those commodities.
A lot of people [put it] in their pockets and put their coats through the X-Ray. The only way they’d stop you for weed is if it was stuck in the barrel of a gun. Most of the people who find weed keep it—it’s one of those commodities. A while ago, I was trailed by a drug-sniffing dog in Chicago. Every time I’d turn around that damn dog would be there.
I used to carry it in my guitar and I’d carry it on my back—in the neck of my guitar—and it’d be way up high above my head, so I passed all types of security.
Dying to know: how did Dancing With The Stars come about?
Well, my wife and my son said it would be cool if I went on the show, since they know I have a little bit of dancing ability, and so they submitted my tape two years ago and I went on the audition and it went pretty good. So I started training and doing tango lessons on top, so here I am.
I like that Argentine tango. It’s made for old guys.