Cheech Marin is starting his day by getting ready for an evening appearance at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles. The museum is kicking off a yearlong exhibition celebrating 40 years of “Up in Smoke.” Released in 1978, the film earned $44 million at the box office and was the start of an extremely successful film career for both Marin and his comedy partner Tommy Chong. As Cheech & Chong, the duo defined counterculture comedy, creating albums and films that portrayed marijuana use through the lens of a generation that embraced drug culture during the Vietnam War and civil rights movement.
Marin is the kind of person who makes you laugh because he’s laughing. His solo career has spanned everything from voice roles in animated Disney movies such as “The Lion King,” “Cars” and “Coco” to acting alongside Don Johnson on the TV drama “Nash Bridges.” Although his acting career began with portraying characters that consumed massive amounts of marijuana, Marin has only recently returned to his grass roots with a film role as a pot grower and a cannabis company called Cheech’s Private Stash. We caught up with Marin to discuss his storied career and his reappearance in the world of marijuana, man.
Cannabis Now Magazine: Did you ever think your work would be in a museum?
Cheech Marin: Why sure, from day one! [Laughs.] I thought our work would be in a jail before it was in a museum. No, no it’s a real honor to be lauded this way. It’s a prelude to being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
You are definitely a cultural icon, but when you’re in the cannabis industry long enough you will undoubtedly hear someone describe their company or business vision as “not like Cheech & Chong.” What are your thoughts on this?[Laughs.] They wish they were like Cheech & Chong! There’s all kinds of visions of Cheech & Chong and as a proponent of the benefits of marijuana, we were leading the pack for a long time and still do and it is not without control or information.
In light of the Trump administration, how would you remake “Born in East LA,” a movie about a Los Angeles native being mistaken for an undocumented immigrant and deported, today?
You know, I probably wouldn’t change a thing. It’s exactly the same, the policies are the same going back and forth. Here’s the question I’ve been asking everybody in politics or office: “What is so hard about comprehensive immigration reform?” And I haven’t got an answer from anybody… I mean, what is so hard about it?
I can’t give you a good answer either.
I know you can’t.
You stepped away from portraying cannabis in your films for more than 30 years, but you recently did a picture where you portrayed a pot grower in “Dark Harvest.” Why did you choose to shift away from cannabis for so long and what was it that made you decide to return?
When Tommy and I separated, my criteria was I would do a movie if it didn’t have a big joint in it. That was my sole criteria because I wanted to establish my separate identity as apart from being totally identified with marijuana. So that’s what I did for the next 20 years. Not that I had anything against it, I just wanted to establish a separate identity. So when this project came up with “Dark Harvest,” it just seemed like a really good movie and I had no problem with the subject matter whatsoever.
I’m wondering if we can go way back. Can you describe your first experience with marijuana?
I was in my first year of college and somebody at a party — my roommate actually — handed me a joint and I was off the leash, “OK I’m going to try this.” And I did and I remember thinking to myself, “And what else have they been lying about?”
Do you still smoke cannabis today?
Oh yeah. Not yet today, but you know, it’s early.
How often do you smoke?
Oh, whenever I want.
What is your smoking routine? Do you prefer a bong or pipes or joints… ?
I like a little bubbler. You know I have this company, Cheech Glass, and we make a lot of different kinds of glass apparatuses, but I like the bubblers. They’re handheld and you don’t have to burn your lungs out drawing in a hit.
I read some interviews where you said that taste is important to you in terms of cannabis. What tastes are you looking for?
Oh, you know, minty fresh. [Laughs.] You know, whatever taste comes out. The thing about the market today which is really wonderful is that there’s so many strains and each has their own particular identifying markers. It’s really great to say, “Oh that’s a new strain I’ve never had before,” and experiment with all the taste factors. It’s a good day.
How do you source the cannabis from Cheech’s Private Stash? Where do you get it from?
Well, we have a crack team that goes out in the field for us and we identify growers and we try their products and when they are deemed well enough to go under our label, we pick them out and we buy them.
Have you tried Chong’s Choice and how does it compare?
Yeah, I’ve tried Chong’s Choice I think a couple times. It’s good, good weed… not as good as Cheech’s Private Stash, but nonetheless good weed.
Are you going to put them in a head-to-head taste test any time soon?
I don’t know what good that would do. [Laughs.] Our byline is it will always be good — it will not always be the same, but it will always be good — and that’s what we want to guarantee to our customers.
I read that you were good friends with Timothy Leary and I’m really interested in you talking about your experiences smoking marijuana with him. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sure, Timmy, he was just the best. He was one of my good, good, good friends. We put him in one of our movies, then we became very close after. We used to spend a lot of time together at his house and he would come and stay with me at the beach. He was just the most wonderful raconteur, he knew everything. He knew a lot about astronomy and we used to sit and look at the stars and point out constellations and how they related. He was a Harvard professor, a renowned psychologist, who, at that time, had written 27 books and been in 23 prisons. I don’t know anybody who has that set of qualifications.
That’s amazing. So not only were you probably exploring acid with him, but you were smoking cannabis as well?
Oh yeah, with him? Sure, yeah absolutely. He was a great, great fan of getting high.
You recently did a cannabis PSA for the state of California. When did you first think that cannabis might become legalized in California?
You know, I’ve thought that all along. I used to use a line from Lenny Bruce. Lenny Bruce says, “Marijuana will definitely be legalized because all the lawyers I know smoke it.” I didn’t think it would take this long. I’m really surprised it took this long.
Through your films, especially your films with Tommy Chong, you’ve often presented Chicano culture to a mainstream audience. How has this mission continued in your work to develop the Cheech Center of Chicano Art, Culture and Industry?
It’s always been part and parcel of who I am, ever since I arrived on the public screen, to present Chicano culture as American culture, as it is. It is quintessentially American culture, you know — striving immigrants looking to advance themselves and fulfill the American dream, it’s always been about that… with a big ladle of salsa on it. I’m keeping the message that Chicano art is American art and people are getting that now, the more we’re out there.
You’ve worked on so many different films, do you have a favorite?
Boy, there’s so many. There’s so many films and I’ve been very, very fortunate to be in quite a few iconic films. Whether it’s “Up in Smoke” or “The Lion King” or “Tin Cup” or “Cars,” there’s a lot that I’m really proud of. I like them all.
What upcoming films or projects do you have in the works?
Well, I have one that’s sitting there waiting to be released called the “War with Grandpa.” I did it [last] summer and it was with Dimension Films — this Weinstein [production] company — and it got caught up in this whole [Harvey] Weinstein scandal. The film has been purchased now by somebody, but it’s a really great family film with Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, myself, Uma Thurman. There’s a bunch of people in it and it’s really funny.
Do you have any other ambitions in the cannabis industry?
Well, I have a label of mescal called Tres Papalote that is out on the market right now, it’s doing very well. So, you know, name your poison.
TELL US, who is your favorite cannabis celebrity?
Originally published in Issue 32 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE