By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News
On Saturday, July 10, Grammy Award winning comedian Tommy Chong graced Tulalip’s retail cannabis shop with his legendary presence. Best known as part of the iconic comedy duo Cheech & Chong, the now 83-year-old Chong is enjoying his twilight years as a patron saint within the country’s largely decriminalized and ever-growing pot industry.
“What does cannabis mean to me? Well, for starters my career as an entertainer has spanned 50 years now and it’s all thanks to this amazing green plant,” marveled Chong in his trademark gritty voice. “When I sit back and reflect on my life, there are so many moments I’m still am in awe of. From writing and directing movies to making music to making millions of people laugh around the world…and doing it all while high, man. It’s unbelievable.”
His enthusiasm and pure joy was shared by lucky Remedy customers whose names were entered and pulled in a weeks’ long raffle to meet the cannabis icon. Adoring fans, the VIP meet and greet winners showed up with their valuable Cheech & Chong collector’s items with the intention of getting Chong’s authenticating signature. Even more valuable than his signature was the opportunity to embrace Chong like that world’s coolest grandpa and express how much he meant to them.
“It’s crazy because never did I think I’d be in this kind of situation to meet someone of Chong’s status in the stoner industry. It’s surreal being able to hang out with him and talk about a subject we’re both super passionate about,” said Tulalip tribal member Carmen Miller. In his possession was an original 1973 Cheech & Chong album with accompanying rolling paper that Chong himself was stunned to see again.
“I grew up watching all his movies. Up In Smoke is an all-time classic and as a teenager I couldn’t watch it enough. Some might say those experiences led me to being nominated as ‘Stoner of the Year’ in high school,” joked Billy Burchett while sporting a super limited scratch and sniff Up In Smoke vinyl. As for the particular scent of the scratch and sniff vinyl? “Cannabi for men,” he said.
Within the smoke-filled world, Chong’s green haze aura still reigns supreme, even after five decades. If anything time has made his counter-culture legend grow bigger. When one loyal fan produced a limited edition Cheech & Chong bong with his likeness on it, the grey haired toker commented on how ironic the moment was. Back in 2003, Chong was sentenced to nine months in a federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia. He was part of the financing and promotion of his son’s business, Chong Glass, which sold handmade glass water pipes or bongs. Now in 2021, it’s legal for companies to mass produce bongs. How quickly times change.
“It’s always been a medicine to the people, but the legislators chose to demonize because they couldn’t profit off it like your typical pharmaceuticals. We’ve come a long way and I’m thrilled to see it being used to treat so many common ailments today.”
“It’s not that public perception has changed when it comes to wide-spread acceptance of cannabis use, it’s the public officials, police, and the judicial system that have changed. If the public didn’t accept marijuana in the 60s and 70s, Cheech & Chong wouldn’t exist,” reflected Chong. “It’s always been a medicine to the people, but the legislators chose to demonize because they couldn’t profit off it like your typical pharmaceuticals. We’ve come a long way and I’m thrilled to see it being used to treat so many common ailments today. However, it’s only when they fully legalize it federally that we can say the war on drugs is finally over.”
It’s been nine years since Washington State voters passed Initiative Measure 502, legalizing the use of recreational marijuana for people 21+. Shortly thereafter, the Board of Directors opted to decriminalize marijuana on the Tulalip Reservation. Then the Tribe became one of the first in the nation to open a retail cannabis store, Remedy, in August 2018. Remedy has thrived under the Quil Ceda Village enterprise and guidance of store manager Jennifer Ashman.
Balancing traditional values with the realities of the 21st century means embracing a changing culture that views marijuana and cannabinoids as natural medicines, especially when compared to prescription pharmaceuticals that have countless side-effects and potentially lethal health warnings.
Remedy’s success has led Tulalip leadership to think much bigger and bolder when it comes to the business side of cannabis.
“Bottom line the Remedy model is profitable and the tax generated from cannabis sales stays within the Tribe and QCV to benefit our community via support services and programs,” explained Martin Napeahi, Quil Ceda Village general manager. “Our vision is to open another cannabis dispensary on Marine Drive, across the street from the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino. Also, it’s only logical that we have our own grow operation and processing facility to become vertically integrated. To be able to sell directly into the 502 market and our own stores means more profits and more job opportunities for our people.”
Like Chong declared during his Remedy special guest appearance, “All thanks to this amazing green plant. Crazy, man.”