What happened to Tommy Chong? -- The other half of Cheech & Chong talks about getting arrested, ''That '70's Show,'' and legalizing pot
At 5:30 A.M. on Feb. 24, 2003, Tommy Chong’s wife, Shelby, woke him with the news that someone was knocking on the door of their Pacific Palisades, Calif., house. Half asleep, Chong went downstairs, and through a front window saw more than a dozen DEA agents and cops. The comedian assumed they were after some criminal on the loose. They were: him.
”The guy says, ‘Open up, it’s a raid,”’ recalls the 68-year-old Chong, standing in the exact spot where he first heard those words. ”I said, ‘The door’s open.’ They came whooping by here with the guns, running from room to room. I said to the guy, ‘Shouldn’t I call a lawyer?’ He said I didn’t need one.”
Despite the dire situation, Chong couldn’t help cracking wise. After a DEA agent told Chong, ”This is not a movie!” he replied, ”Well, it will be.” When the agent asked if he had any drugs in the house, Chong said that he had some pot. But what he thought was ”Of course I have drugs in the house. I’m Tommy Chong!”
It’s not as if he had kept his fondness for marijuana a secret. In the ’70s and early ’80s, Chong and his partner, Cheech Marin, made a string of famously drug-addled albums and films that established Cheech & Chong as stoner icons. Chong himself is a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization and says that had the raid taken place not long before, the DEA would have found three large dope plants growing on his roof.
As it was, the agents did find a pound of pot. But they weren’t really looking for drugs. The raid was part of a nationwide law-enforcement initiative — Operation Pipe Dreams — attacking the drug-paraphernalia industry. One company it targeted was Chong Glass, the Gardena, Calif.-based bong-making business owned by the Chong family and run by Tommy’s son Paris. ”They said, ‘Your bong factory is being raided,”’ Chong remembers. ”I said, ‘This is about bongs?’ I thought about my son, who had worked so hard, and got mad. I said, ‘You motherf–ers!’ Then all the guys got around me, like I’m gonna jump on a guy with a gun! The guy said,’ Now you can call a lawyer.”’
A couple of weeks prior to reliving the raid on his house, Tommy Chong is seated at a table inside the Washington Convention Center in D.C. He’s signing advance copies of his new memoir, The I Chong: Meditations From the Joint, at BookExpo America, a publishing-industry confab. Not long ago Chong was a has-been, the punchline to a decades-old joke. But today — perched between Leonard Cohen and Mary (daughter of Dick) Cheney, joking with his fans — Chong is enjoying the benefits of publisher Simon & Schuster’s big marketing push. Against all odds, his career is healthier than at any time since his bitter split with Marin in the mid-’80s. In addition to The I Chong (due out next month), a new documentary about the comedian and his legal adventures, a/k/a Tommy Chong, recently premiered in New York. Plans are afoot to turn the Cheech & Chong movie Up in Smoke into a Broadway musical. And there’s a possibility that the duo might repair their shattered relationship, at least long enough for one more big-screen pot flick. ”We’re older,” says Chong, ”so the humor would have to be something in the manner of Grumpy Old Stoners. But it would work.”