Disclaimer: There is no punchline in this story, irony is dead and we live in a post-satire world. This is the context necessary to digest the news that Tommy Chong, the 80-year-old comedian, missed a speaking engagement in Canada, where he was born and where recreational marijuana is now legal, because he couldn’t find his passport.
Chong has been an international celebrity since the 1970s, a high profile owing more than a little bit to his and longtime collaborator Cheech Marin’s affinity to marijuana —and, this writer can attest, he is by all accounts a warm, kind, and gracious soul, generous with his time and happy to talk at length about his 60 years in show business.
Now a multi-dimensional marijuana entrepreneur, with his likeness licensed to cannabis strains and cannabis accessories, as well as a two-time cancer survivor — a record that he attributes wholly to his lifelong marijuana habit — Chong was scheduled to be on the ground in Canada on Wednesday for the first day of that country’s recreational marijuana legalization.
Though he has lived for decades in California (and served time in an American federal prison after DEA agents set him up in 2004 for running a bong company) Chong is Canadian by birth. He grew up in Calgary, where he says he first tried cannabis as a 17-year-old in the 1950s, and ran a nightclub in Vancouver before fate and fortune brought him to Los Angeles. He was supposed to jet from Southern California to British Columbia for an event celebrating legalization’s first day north of the border when, as the UK Independent reported, he discovered he couldn’t find his passport.
“Right now, I’m stuck here,” he told the Toronto Star on Tuesday. “I lost my passport, so we’re going through the dance of a celebrity trying to get a passport fast.”
There are limits to what fame can do for you. Come Wednesday, Chong was still without the necessary travel documents. So he missed his flight. He did not make it. He missed the big day in his native land. (This is a pun-free blog post.)
Due to unforeseen complications we will be rescheduling today’s event for the legalization of recreational marijuana for FRIDAY the 19th from 5pm-9pm. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused but we still hope to see you all at this incredible event and to see me! pic.twitter.com/8Cn6UuvCPi
— Tommy Chong (@tommychong) October 17, 2018
Chong is lucky in a variety of ways. Were he holding a Canadian passport, he might find travel back into the United States difficult, or canceled entirely. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials have indicated that they intend to enforce federal marijuana law to the letter, which includes denying entry to any foreign nationals who admit to using cannabis, who are also eligible for a lifetime ban. That draconian treatment can be avoided by paying a fine — making the border prohibition scheme look even more like a protection racket than usual. In the meantime, Chong is still a handy watchword for what not to do at the border.
Bill Blair is Canada’s minister for border security. “Frankly,” he said recently, “if you show up at the border looking like Cheech and Chong, you’re going” to suffer additional inspections or interviews, on both sides.”
But you have to make it there first.
TELL US, did you know Tommy Chong was Canadian?