NCIA Nixes Tommy Chong, Chong Takes the High Road


Reconciling cannabis’ past, present and future in our culture and politics can be a tough job. As someone who has navigated through the perilous task of working to unite activists, patients, growers, processors, retailers, consultants, politicians and funders, I can certainly relate. There is the need to remember those that helped pave the way to where we are today while broadening our tent, to ensure that we garner more and more support as marijuana isn’t legal just yet. It is important for cannabis law reform advocates to keep the base happy and from revolting while still utilizing messaging that appeals to a wide political spectrum.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) has certainly understood this dynamic as the business and activist communities don’t always see eye to eye. However, they haven’t had such a high-profile dustup as they have now, after disinviting Tommy Chong from their lobbying day following a spoof video Chong filmed satirizing Matthew McConaughey’s Buick commercials. In an attempt to appeal to Republicans, especially now that the GOP controls both chambers of Congress, NCIA told Chong that he was no longer welcomed at the organization’s lobbying day. From Politico:

In a Monday email sent to Chong’s representatives and allies, NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith said that after deliberations and feedback from “allied members of Congress,” the group decided Chong is not the best representative in stodgy Washington, particularly when it comes to lobbying right-of-center lawmakers.

“Having Tommy out in DC for the NCIA Lobby Days will detract from the overall message we aim for with the event, which is that cannabis business people are regular professionals and relatable to the generally conservative members of Congress we are looking to appeal to,” Smith wrote. “We are here to break ‘stoner’ stereotypes rather than reinforce them.”

The NCIA was particularly concerned with a recent farcical YouTube video starring Chong that shows him smoking pot in a car, nodding off at the wheel and using a “Tommy Chong’s smokeswipe” to banish the smell of marijuana on his clothing before a meeting with a parole officer.

Steve Bloom of Celebstoner and wasn’t pleased, writing that “NCIA Disses Tommy Chong“:

Chong is a comedian and the commercial is a lighthearted stab at McConaughery’s existential narratives. Can’t the NCIA take a joke?

For their part, Chong’s team took the high road in response to Politico, who broke the story: “NCIA made a decision based on their understanding of the landscape along with their goals and objectives for the event. We all want the same thing here and we do not want to cause, or be part of, any ripples in our allied goal. We don’t want to escalate this is any manner.”

At least one NCIA member is not happy with the decision to bar Chong. Pete O’Neil, who owns C & C Cannabis Company in Seattle, has canceled his membership. “I’m not going (to DC),” he says. “Maybe there’s a reason marijuana is still illegal. Maybe we don’t have the right guys in DC. We’re looking for a good lobbyist.”

This isn’t an easy spot for NCIA and I certainly sympathize with those that want Tommy Chong to be respected. I must admit that I’ve never been a fan of the Cheech & Chong routines and usual stoner stereotypes, but I respect the man for being an outspoken cannabis law reform crusader and the fact that he was willing to accept an unjust prison sentence to protect his family. I am thankful and appreciative of Tommy Chong for staying above the fray and keeping the focus on what is best for the cannabis legalization movement. Struggles and disputes like this will continue to occur, but it is important that all of us on the same side of the legalization fight keep our eye on the prize and not let petty disputes and our ego get in the way.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.