Tommy Chong is a well-known face around the world for more than one reason. He is an actor, writer, director, musician, comedian, and most prominently a very famous cannabis advocate. His legalization efforts have continued for a good part of his life and were expressed intently through his music, films, and other creative works.
Starring alongside Richard Cheech in the Grammy Award-winning comedy flick ‘Cheech & Chong‘, Tommy Chang has been quite vocal about his love for marijuana. His stand-up shows with Richard Chee were quite impactful during their time, speaking volumes about their support for the cannabis movement. They were so successful that most of their shows were sold out in the 1970s – a time when the ‘war on drugs’ was at its peak in the entire world.
What Does Tommy Chong Believe About Cannabis Criminalization?
Hailing from immigrant families himself, Chong sternly believes that the war on drugs has its roots in xenophobia.
According to him, “Marijuana prohibition has been a racial law right from the get-go. It followed the path of the Chinese opium law. Britain actually almost ruined China with the opium trade and so America, when they wanted to demonize a race of people, they would outlaw their habits – that’s what prohibition was all about. Prohibition was just basically a racist law.”
If we are to weigh his words and match them with reality, disagreeing with him would be hard. Here’s why:
Up until the early 1800s, there were no federal restrictions on the usage, retail, or possession of marijuana in the U.S. Hemp fiber derived from it was used to make products like clothes, paper, and rope. In addition to this, medicinal usage of the drug was also very common. It might sound ironic, but at the time of its prohibition, tinctures containing cannabis traces were present in probably every medicinal cabinet in the United States. It was used to treat various diseases like malaria, stomach ache and even ‘absentmindedness’.
Why then was cannabis criminalized and banned?
Just as Tommy Chong pointed out, cannabis was prohibited in an attempt to degrade and ‘demonize’ Mexican immigrants.
The early 1900s was a time when thousands of Mexican immigrants began seeking refuge in the United States. While smoking marijuana recreationally was not very common in the U.S, Mexican immigrants were quite fond of this practice.
This was seen as a great opportunity to instill ‘reefer madness’ among the people. Politicians were quick to substitute the term ‘cannabis’ with ‘marihuana’ to make it sound more authentically Mexican in order to create more prejudice. It worked of course. Newspapers were soon labeling Mexican cannabis use as a ‘marijuana menace’. In the words of Harry J. Anslinger, first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, marijuana caused “insanity, criminality, and death”.
Here is a quote from a New York Times story from 1927:
“A widow and her four children have been driven insane by eating the Marihuana plant, according to doctors, who say that there is no hope of saving the children’s lives and that the mother will be insane for the rest of her life,”
Going Back to the Future With Cannabis
With the increasing recognition of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and its derivatives, laws surrounding it are slowly relaxing. The racism that has long haunted the drug is also vanishing slowly.
Tommy Chong compares this with the phenomena of going back to the future. He says that with more acceptance of the drug, society is going back to the beginning days. It is returning to days where there was no stigma attached to the drug.
According to him, one of the major challenges now faced by the industry is its federal prohibition. Businesses are unable to obtain finances for the fear of being prosecuted. This has led to a major part of the industry operating on cash transactions creating problems for them as well as regulators. Depending upon cash means that cannabis dispensaries are at the forefront of robberies and burglaries when civil unrest arises.
Cannabis is equally beneficial for the mind and body
Chong is a firm believer in the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. He has made a mention of its religious sacrament and its soothing impact on the mind and body.
“A lot of sports people that I’ve known are big marijuana advocates because it doesn’t tear you down like alcohol does or make you crazy or addicted like cocaine and heroin. So, marijuana is really the perfect stuff for everything including medicine.”