How Tommy Chong Became a Marijuana Legalization Advocate

June 7th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

To Tommy Chong, all marijuana is medical marijuana.

Tommy Chong

The legalization activist described this to me in an interview last month at his home in the Pacific Palisades, California, where we discussed everything from the therapeutic benefits of cannabis to the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws. (You can watch the first video from our interview.)

Chong's activism was informed, in large part, by his experience in the criminal justice system. He was arrested in 2003 and spent nine months in federal prison for "conspiring to distribute drug paraphernalia" (bongs) across state lines; federal agents had ordered them from his website as part of a sting operation. Now he's using his high-profile status to advocate for legalization.

Chong told ATTN: about his views on marijuana legalization. (This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.)

ATTN: You came out of the cannabis closet, so to speak, during a time of rapid escalation in the drug war. What made you decide to be so open about your marijuana use?

TC: When I started smoking pot, it was legal because no one knew what it was. We could smoke openly because they weren't looking for it. I've never had that guilt or that fear of being arrested because, when you get high, everything is funny. I never it took it seriously. I never took the pot laws seriously ever. We weren't doing anything wrong and I also knew the pot laws [were] racially biased — anti-Black, anti-Chinese, anti-brown laws. When [Cheech Marin and I] came down to L.A. to make it as comedians, the only common denominator that all the audiences related to was pot. We were the only act really doing pro-pot humor.

ATTN: How do you think future generations will judge the War on Drugs?

TC: They will be curious. [They’ll be] treating some little girl with epilepsy and they’ll say, 'You know, you could go to jail for this medicine.' And then everybody would kind of chuckle and go, 'Oh, really?' We are going backwards in time, really. It was legal in China for centuries. They used cannabis or hemp as medicine for centuries. The world has known about the beautiful effects of marijuana forever. I embrace marijuana.

ATTN: What lessons did you draw from your time in prison?

TC: I turned it into a spiritual retreat. I did thanks to pot. One of the greatest things about pot is that you don't have to smoke it. When I went to prison, I made a vow [that] I'm not going to smoke until I can legally smoke again. No problem. I had no withdrawals. No psychological problems. I just made up my mind [that] I’m going to quit smoking pot for the time I'm jail and the time I'm on probation. Yeah, that's one of the greatest things about pot is that it's non-addictive.

ATTN: You've been up against opponents and critics before. Who do you think the strongest enemy of legalization is today?

TC: Probably the head of the DEA, I guess. His job will disappear eventually.

ATTN: Did you hear that the DEA is supposed to make a decision on rescheduling by the end of June?

TC: Oh, thank you. Oh, that's going to make such a difference. Then we'll be able to smoke it and grow it and wear it and eat it. Once they reschedule, it's going to change the world. [Note: sarcasm]. Fuck 'em. It's been rescheduled.

WATCH: Tommy Chong Talks To ATTN: