Chong On Chong: From his first puff in a Calgary jazz club to comedy legend to a pioneering figure for the legal pot movement

Q: In regards to your craft cannabis brand which you’re curating, how did that come about?

A: I’ve been in the cannabis business a long time and we knew we would to do something in Canada, but we had to wait for the right time. My nephews got it started and I work with them as a curator, helping select strains and making sure they know about all the new products coming out in the US. Next year, I’m hoping I can travel up to Canada and visit the growers.

Q: Was it the familial connection with your nephews that got you back involved, or the fact it was an Alberta endeavour — back to your roots?

A: Alberta grows really good weed, you know. You can thank BC for that. We had offers from a bunch of other companies when pot was legalized, but we turned them down. My nephews Josh and Dave went to 20 grows and didn’t stop until we found the right spot. 

Q: What do you remember about Alberta? 

A: I have some fond memories — like the first time I smoked. It was in a jazz club called The Foggy Manor in Calgary. A bass player by the name of Raymond Mah brought me a present from California. He brought me a marijuana cigarette — a joint — and a Lenny Bruce record, and it was very ordained, very special. That was my first experience — as soon as he gave me the marijuana cigarette I put it in my pocket, just out of habit.

Raymond lit up his own joint and that was the first time I smoked. I was listening to a song called Lonely Woman by Ornette Coleman — I had to find out the name of that song because as soon as I got high, I could see a lonely woman in a balcony and she’s just looking out, you know, she’s lonely. I thought, wow. That was my first experience with pot. 

I’ve been turning a lot of people onto that song … it’s incredible. And then when I took the joint home with the Lenny Bruce record — I was living at home with my parents, in my hovel in the basement — I stayed down there and would do just one toke and put it out because I wasn’t sure — it was scary back then — this was the late ‘50s!  

Q: What should we expect from the weed? 

A: In Alberta, we just launched our first strain — Cherry ‘47. It’s full of cherry and citrus — it’s a perfect strain for making art. You know, artists live in the future. When they’re painting, they are envisioning what will come. Then they create it. They create the future. When they are finished, that’s the past.  

Everything we do is hand-crafted — hung dry and hand-trimmed. We put good stuff in the pre-rolls too — never shake or trim — that’s the corporate corruption I never wanna put my name on.

Q: Do you consider yourself a pioneer in the cannabis wars and do you also have any regrets about being out in front of the fight?

A: For a minute, you don’t think you’re really being busted. The swat team had their masks on, their automatic weapons, they were polite and just standing at my door — which was open by the way — standing like trick or treaters. I thought, “Oh that’s cute, a little army at my door.”  I lost my sense of humour when they said they were busting me. 

I quit smoking weed when I’m in prison and so I started studying spiritual books — Emmet Fox and Joel Goldsmith — that gave me strength. The best diet you can do is fast. I never fasted in prison but I have gone on various fasts, at various times. If you can control your mind, and that’s what real spirituality is — spiritual bodybuilding — instead of walking into a gym you walk into your own consciousness and choices. What I learned when I had to go to prison and I had to get away from the world — I was like a monk. One of the rules in prison is that you don’t make eye contact with anyone unless they got something to offer you. You know, being famous, I had a lot of people wanting to talk to me which is OK, but they also respected my privacy. I turned prison into a religious retreat.

Q: What is the ultimate Cheech and Chong film or album, and what do you think it says about us?

A: I loved all of them, to tell you the truth. If there was a favourite though, it would be Still Smoking because it was supposed to be a concert movie and my whole thing was not to be traditional or normal. I drew no lines, especially making movies. People wanted to see Cheech and Chong being funny. I didn’t agree with the concert movie idea and I thought if we are going to take time to make this movie, let’s make a movie. They’re fun! I love making movies. So I convinced Paramount to give us a million bucks each — we were partners with them from the first dollar. The budget was basically what Cheech and I would have charged for any movie — we made close to over 10 million dollars each. It’s not what you’d call politically correct … we bash everyone.

Laughing at yourself is the greatest thing you can do — the ability to laugh — especially at yourself. Because people get too serious. Your ego is a false sense of who you think you have to be. The absence of ego is the absence of fear. I just had my astrology chart read. I got 3 Pisces or something — I guess that means I’m sort of in la-la land. I’m here on Earth, but I’m always space travelling. I’m always in the past or in the future. Just visiting.