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LAist Interview: Cheech & Chong

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Photo courtesy of D&E Entertainment

I had a coworker once, a recent college grad, whose first morning staff meeting fell on April 20. He still recalls uncomfortably how his phone started blowing up during the meeting, finally prompting our president to inquire what was going on. He couldn’t tell her it was from well-wishers delivering messages of, “Dude, Happy 4/20!” and sending him virtual tokes.

But that was D.C. and this is L.A., where we’ve got medical marijuana shops on most corners and in the strips of shops between them, and you’ve probably heard about 4/20. In case you, like my old boss, aren’t familiar with this particular April holiday, Wikipedia says, “April 20 ("4/20" in U.S. date notation) has evolved into a counterculture holiday, where people gather to celebrate and consume cannabis.”

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It’s also, by no coincidence, the day stoner comic duo Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong are releasing their latest film, Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This. It’s been 25 years since they’ve preformed on screen together, but now they’re back with their medicinal marijuana cards in hand and the ability to release their film in theaters and on Video on Demand, DVD and Blu Ray, all on 4/20. The iconic comics recently sat down with LAist, shared some munchies and memories, and told us it’s never to late to celebrate 4/20.

LAist: How did you two very first meet?

Chong: We met in Vancouver, Canada. I ran a topless nightclub and I had just converted it into an improvisational nightclub.

Cheech: But topless.

Chong: Yes, but with topless girls. I had a couple of partners playing the longhaired hippies, I had a straight guy playing the cop, and then the dancers. Then the straight guy’s wife found out what he was doing and hauled him off so I was looking for a straight man. A buddy of mine recommended Richard, not Cheech, Richard. And so I went off to Richmond to a little farmhouse where Richard was working on an underground newspaper. I met with him and then invited him down to the club and he came down and I remember he showed up with this gorgeous woman. Full-length mink coat, I mean she was just stunning, so I said, “Well, he’s hired,” because I always judge a man by his woman.

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Cheech: Actually, it was just a dude with long hair.

Chong: (laughs) No, it was very much a woman. I didn’t know at the time that she was coming to break up with you.

Cheech: They all do, eventually. (laughs)

Chong: But when I saw that I though, “Yeah, this guy’s got something.” And then he saw the show and joined the show and he was like an understudy/writer for the nine months of the show while it was up. Then my brother fired us and Cheech was the only one who wanted to carry on doing something. We formed a band, but we never played a note because we did comedy instead. Next thing you know, it was just the two of us, so we came on down to L.A. and the rest is history.

Cheech: Our audience has grown much bigger in our absence, because of the viewing of the movies and then they work their way backwards through the records. It’s a social phenomenon, like social networking, Cheech and Chong is like a right of passage. You get to be like 13, 14, 15, you know, you discover Cheech & Chong movies, pizza and dope right about the same time.

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Chong: I’ve got my card. Jack Herrera, he wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes, the first marijuana book out. Him and I, when they changed the law the first time around here, there were no cards or anything so we designed our own card. It was a letter from a doctor and then we had it shrunk into cards. (pulls his card out and passes it over) So that’s the very first.

Cheech: You can have it for 50 bucks. (laughs)

Chong: You can get them now. I went into a club to get some pot and they said, “Do you have a card?” I showed them that. They looked at it and said, “Oh, it’s outdated.” Well, there were no rules then. So they phoned the doctor and he says, “Oh yeah, come in and I’ll update your card.” Yeah, I come in and you get more money. Yeah, that’s the first card, so we do have our medical cards.

LAist: What do you think about the possible legalization of marijuana in the next few months?

Cheech: It’s inevitable.

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Chong: You know they’re going to appeal that. They’re going to pull all that crap. The thing is, if we get even a close vote one way or the other, it’s just going to push the Obama regime into rescheduling it because that really is the answer to legalization. Reschedule the drug to Schedule 2 so it’s available by prescription only.

Cheech: It’s going to be legal. I think it’s going to be legal on a nationwide basis within three years. It’s the number one cash crop in the world. It’s like outlawing wheat. Come on. Any kind of legalization is going to come with rules.

Chong: That’s what they’ve got in Amsterdam now. Now what they do, there’s no penalty, you see. That’s the whole thing. They can enact these laws without penalties, without problems. Once you put penalties on it then you can go to court and you can fight it. That’s what they want to do. They want to keep it out of the court because the truth is… When we were flying here from Detroit, this neurosurgeon came and visited me at my seat and he says, “I want to tell you something. You went to jail and all that. I’m a neurosurgeon. I operate on alcohol related accidents every day. Every day there’s someone got bashed in due to alcohol. In my 20 years, I’ve never once operated on a marijuana related accident.” 20 years, not one. By the way, they did a study that was around Nixon’s time. They did a commission, had a commission do a study. Part of the study was how marijuana affects drivers. They did the study in Toronto and Canada. They found that the marijuana-impaired drivers scored the highest, higher than all the straight drivers.

Cheech: Nah, get out of here… (laughs)

Chong: They did. You know this. They did. Look it up.

Cheech: Google it.

LAist: Have you celebrated 4/20 as a holiday yourselves over the years?

Cheech: Oh, sure. (laughs)

LAist: What are some of your traditions?

Chong: With me it’s usually 4/21, because I always forget it’s 4/20. They go, “Well, it was 4/20.” Oh, really? Okay, well, let’s celebrate. It’s never too late.

Cheech: It’s just right at the end of the day, right when you need a break, 4:20. You know the stoner lifestyle has kind of affected every segment of society. We go out and look across the floodlights, across the people who come to see us now. It’s everybody. Weed just kind of goes into every segment, it’s the common thread. It’s more prevalent than beer.

Chong: I love the argument that it’s a lot stronger now than it was before. Well, that means you smoke less. Done.

Article by Courtney Quinn