Interviews

Tommy Chong Unplugged

Hemp Emperor remains at ease in longtime role as cannabis icon — and about the future of pot

By S.J. Clelland

WAM: How did you celebrate 420 this year?

TOM: I missed 420 because I forgot it was 420, so I celebrated 420 on 421. It was actually 521 — that’s when I realized I missed 420 … by a day.

WAM: A few years ago, we coined you as the “Hemp Emperor.” Do you feel like there is more pressure on you being a global cannabis icon and advocate?

TOM: Well, the only pressure that’s on me now comes from an operation I had, you know, changing my bowels around … so that’s only when I try to walk after I eat. Otherwise, there’s no pressure on me whatsoever.

WAM: Do people always assume you’re ready, willing and able to light up and smoke at any time?

TOM: Well, yes. Yes and no. I mean, there are times, you know, when I definitely don’t smoke. Usually, it’s because I can’t remember whether I smoked or not. But uh, uh, normally yes, I’m pretty ready and able, even when I’m not. I’ve got people around that’ll wake me up and get me high.

WAM: If you could change one thing about the cannabis industry in this country, what would it be?

TOM: If I could change? The president of the United States. That’s what I’d change.

WAM: About the cannabis industry?

TOM: Probably the banking system, you know. That would be the one thing. I would make it federal law that it would be OK to use banks.

WAM: How can Americans get the federal government to remove marijuana from the Schedule I controlled substance category?

TOM: You know, you’d have to change the attorney general. Just get Republicans out of there … That’s, that’s the key, you know. Get the Democrats control of at least one of the Houses. But yeah, we have to fall back on the Democratic control before we can do anything.

WAM: Do you believe decriminalizing marijuana will happen this decade?

TOM: Well, yeah. Yeah … Really all they’re trying to do is … They’re having a change of culture. You know, and the culture of making money off of innocent growers and users. The government has to come up with some other … alternative way of making their money, just like they had to do with the parking and dealing with the electric cars.

WAM: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a harsh critic of marijuana and state legalization. Are you worried about what he’ll do in the next four years?

TOM: No, I’m more worried about his health than the next four years … They all look like they have signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s and not to mention extreme stupidity. That is a curable disease, but it’s toxic, very toxic, and it looks like it’s catching. Because they’re all getting … a taste of that. Anyways, listen, it’s been illegal now for 78 years — 79 years — and so another couple of four years of straightening it out is really a drop in the bucket, you know, so actually everything is going according to plan. Even what’s happing now with the government — you know when they said they were going to drain the swamp? Well, right now, we’ve got the critters in the swamp that are still hanging on, you know. But I think we need a Bernie, or you know, someone like a Bernie Sanders to really drain the swamp completely and restock it.

WAM: You were on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ in 2014. How was that experience?

TOM: Uh, very, very intense. That’s when I found out how old I really was — am. You know, up until then I was fooling myself. I thought I was a young guy. But after ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ I realized I am an old fucker! With a lot of fans.

WAM: Were you high when you competed on the show?

TOM: Uh, no, for the most part no. But what’s his name, everybody else was … I got Val (Chmerkovskiy) and everybody (high).

WAM: Do you wish you had been?

TOM: Actually, I got high, um, immediately after. But no, I had to be careful. It was so intense, you know, that I needed all my energy. And so I needed all my faculties. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Geraldo, they had to drag him away like a limp dishrag, poor guy.

WAM: Did friends and family poke fun at you because you were on ‘Dancing With the Stars’?

TOM: Oh, no, no, no. Everybody was very happy.

WAM: Which game show would you do well?

TOM: Oh, no, I’m lousy. I’m lousy. Cheech is the guy that does the shows — ‘Jeopardy.’ He does ‘Jeopardy.’

WAM: Not including your movies, in your opinion what is the best stoner movie ever?

TOM: ‘American Beauty.’ I just watched it the other day, and to me, that is — other than ‘Up in Smoke’ —that is the best stoner movie. It had so many levels of how it’s good for you and how it’s misunderstood. And, as a movie itself, was so good. It showed humor. It showed pot just like we did with ‘Up in Smoke.’ Just perfect.

WAM: What has been your favorite Oregon strain as of late that you have been toking?

TOM: We get it from Shango. Sativa from Shango. It was, uh, very positive. It was an upper, you know. It made you get really creative; sativas tend to do that with me; I always get ’em mixed up … Sometimes I’m awake all night and other times I’m asleep all day.

WAM: If you could take a time machine and visit any era, which concert would you see?

TOM: Ummm. Tierney Sutton. Or Wiz Khalifa. That’s because I’d have to take my 40-year-old son there. Tickets are so expensive. (Laughs.) ‘Dad take me to the concert!’

WAM: Are you pleased with the success of Chong’s Choice and its performance in the market?

TOM: Oh, it’s killin’ everywhere. Everywhere. And when we get … everybody gets turned on to Chong’s Choice CBD oil, whoa, that’s gonna go through the roof … I’m gonna end up buyin’ your magazine. Just so I could be on the cover every other (issue).

WAM: What products would you like to explore with Chong’s Choice in the next few years?

TOM: Well, I told you about the CBD oil … And all the flower, and the shatter, everything … everything that’s good. Anything and everything organic.

WAM: Marijuana still gets a bad rap from some critics for its medicinal value. Do you think the industry is harmed by some of the ridiculous strain names, like Alaskan Thunder Fuck or Durban Poison? Can the medical industry ever take it serious with names like that?

TOM: Oh, no. Not at all. Not at all … Marijuana is really an aptitude test now. If, uh, if people still think it’s harmful, that means they’re … not incurably, but they’re pretty ignorant.

WAM: If it was legally possible (it’s likely never going to happen), would you like to see California secede from the United States and establish its own country (Cal-Exit)?

TOM: No. Not at all. Not at all. No reason to. No, we gotta … help our brothers, you know. Just because we got everything in California we can’t, you know, ignore the people. Because we’re, uh, a destination for a lot of people. And so it if wasn’t for the other places, California would be empty because there’d be nowhere to come from.

WAM: Do you believe that Oregon is a trendsetter for the rest of the country … or just alone on an island doing its own thing?

TOM: Oh, Oregon, man, that’s … Oregon is the … is the place. It’s the place. Especially if you like rain. (Laughs).