He laughs it off, but the last seven months have been rough for Tommy Chong. He’s been battling cancer that recurred in June after three years of remission. “The good part about my health is that I have to smoke a ton of pot to stay happy, to feel good, to keep my appetite, because I lost a lot of weight,” Chong tells Rolling Stone.
He has five more months of chemotherapy left to go, but he says he’s managing to enjoy life in the meantime. “I just go lay out in the sun. That’s all I do these days.”
Though that’s not quite true: For a cancer-stricken 77-year-old, Chong is industrious. He hosts a web series — Almost Legal With Tommy Chong — on which he interviews celebrities and weed activists. He just launched Chong’s Choice, a line of pot-related products, like pre-rolled joints and marijuana-infused breath strips. And this past week he debuted a video, and did a slew of interviews, in support of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.
“When you play a game like Monopoly, when one person or a couple of people own everything, the other people go broke and there’s no more game, you see? So Bernie is like this referee. He’s got no reason to be president other than to make sure that everybody plays by the same rules,” Chong says.
What about Bernie’s rivals? Of Ted Cruz — who was born is Chong’s hometown of Calgary — he says, “He has a good sense of humor. He’s funny. But he’s also devious. He reminds me of a rat in a cartoon. Shifty-eyed, like Wiley Coyote.” Asked about Hillary Clinton, Chong says, “I’ll tell you, if Bernie is not around, I’ll vote for Hillary. I’ll vote for any Democrat. But between Hillary and Bernie, Bernie wins with me.”
Chong’s endorsement of Sanders isn’t exactly surprising, given the pothead persona he cultivated over decades doing Cheech & Chong. The Vermont senator is the only candidate who’s called for the decriminalization of marijuana — a personal issue for Chong.
Chong became a naturalized U.S. citizen in Eighties — and then promptly fled the country out of fear the feds might come after him for smoking weed. “I moved out of the country when Reagan was voted in,” Chong says, “when he started busting people on yachts for finding a half a roach or a joint on-board the boat. Then I took a hint and got out of town.” He and his comedic partner Cheech Marin made two films in Paris.
This wasn’t paranoia. Chong was famously prosecuted in 2003 for his connection to his son’s water pipe business, Nice Dreams. He eventually pled guilty to shipping paraphernalia across state lines, a felony, in exchange for assurances that his wife and son would not be prosecuted.
He spent nine months in prison, where his cellmate was Jordan Belfort, the so-called Wolf of Wall Street. “I was in a real nice jail. I was in, like, a Bernie Madoff jail. I really enjoyed it. It was like a religious retreat for me,” he says. “I could have fought it, and I could have probably won, but then they would have charged my son and my wife.”
You might think this experience would give Chong pause about getting involved in another pot-related venture, but he says it didn’t. Of the prosecution, he says, “It was all a political thing. I’m definitely not afraid to partake in God’s medicine.”
This is all to say Chong appreciates Sanders’ position on marijuana decriminalization and sentencing reform. He also appreciates President Obama’s recent work with regard to sentencing reform, though, he says, “He could do a lot more. In fact, I want him to pardon me so I can clear my record.”
He hasn’t officially filed a petition with the pardon office yet, he says. “I’ll get to it. I’m going to take care of Bernie first.”