Beyond making up half of the iconic Cheech and Chong stoner comedy duo, legendary icon Tommy Chong has a long history in cannabis advocacy and, let’s just say, experience. Cheech and Chong found their fame as a counter-culture duo with drug-infused antics, garnering a large following throughout the ‘70s. The Grammy-award winning duo went their separate ways to focus on their own careers after they felt their dynamic had run its course in the ‘80s.
From becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen to his iconic role in That ‘70s Show, the time he spent incarcerated for selling bongs, and his outspoken advocacy, he has become a well-known and beloved figure for many, especially other cannabis enthusiasts.
Just recently, in reference to the college admissions scandal, he recalled his incarceration for selling bongs through the mail as not being so bad, saying, "that's why I want to tell Felicity Huffman to relax.”
Let’s get a clearer picture of this man’s legacy.
The Tommy Chong Story
Tommy Chong began his career as a musician, and his group, “The Vancouvers”, even went on tour with the Jackson 5. Most acclaim came later when he joined Cheech Marin in comedy and acting endeavors.
The two found their fame as a counter-culture duo with drug-infused antics, garnering a large following throughout the ‘70s. They did stand-up comedy shows and recorded several comedy albums together before embarking in film.
Up in Smoke was their first (and arguably most recognized) feature-length in 1978 and it became a cult classic that is still loved to this day. Its success got them a couple of sequels, with subsequent movies receiving less success. They also had some guest appearances in other movies, including Martin Scorcese’s After Hours.
The Grammy-award winning duo went their separate ways to focus on their own careers after they felt they had run their course as a duo. Marin focused on his solo career and Chong worked on a few individual projects, including writing, directing, and starring in a movie.
He later gained a regular role in That ‘70s Show as Leo, the hippie guy who hired Hyde to work at his camera hut. He was a beloved character who was absent for a few seasons because he had to serve time in prison.
Chong's Time in Jail
In 2003, Chong was sentenced to nine months in federal prison because he got caught up in “Operation Pipe Dreams,” a large investigation that was targeting drug paraphernalia distributors.
Chong and about 50 other people were arrested for selling drug paraphernalia, including bongs. He had to give up his internet domain, lost over $100,000 in cash, and had all of his supplies seized during a raid.
He pleaded guilty in a bargain to keep his wife and children (who were involved) out of the punishment. He was released in 2004. He later published a book detailing his experiences titled, The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint.
Recent Years and Advocacy
Tommy Chong’s 81st birthday is coming up, though you’d never guess it from his youthful appearance. He killed it on Dancing With the Stars back in 2014, but much of his legacy remains tied to cannabis.
Chong said he already anticipated the changes in cannabis laws in the United States. According to the Associated Press, he said, “in fact, I kind of planned the whole thing out.”
He’s dealt with two bouts of cancer, the first in 2008 where he said he used marijuana suppositories to treat it. He later was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
According to CNN, when diagnosed again with cancer, he said he was using hemp oil to treat it, saying that, legalizing the plant “means a lot more to me than just being able to smoke a joint without being arrested."
He’s now cancer-free, and attributes his recovery to a good sense of humor, a positive attitude, and good medical care, according to an interview with the team that treated his colorectal cancer.
At the 2015 “Cannabis Summit” in Seatac, Washington, Tommy Chong spoke out about marijuana being “medicine for the brain.”
He talked about how people often don’t realize the positive effects of marijuana on the brain, thinking it is just used for recreation. He talks about its use as a “serious medicine” in ailments like arthritis, epilepsy, mental health disorders, and PTSD, without high costs.
In just about any interview or form of the press with Chong, cannabis is going to come up. His beliefs have stayed consistent and he has never been afraid to be an outspoken voice for the cause.
Tommy Chong’s cannabis advocacy and enthusiasm have continued throughout his life without ever faltering. His views on and love for the plant remain, and he’s taken it another step further with Chong’s Choice, his own line of cannabis products.
According to his website, “he has made it his personal mission to share the very best product available with his fans and fellow herb connoisseurs.”
Even in his eighties, Chong remains a beloved cannabis advocate and iconic celebrity who changed the landscape of stoner comedies and culture for the better. He continues to show up and speak up for what he’s always believed.