Cheech and Chong talk NJ legal weed, ‘Up in Smoke’


New Jersey could soon become the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana, if Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers can get on the same page.

When Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong’s “Up in Smoke” debuted in cinemas in 1978, the use of medical marijuana was barely in its infancy, and the idea of legal weed for recreation was laughable.

WHEN WILL MARIJUANA BE LEGAL IN NJ? Check out our guide here.

Now, it’s become a billion-dollar industry in Colorado and there could soon be home to anywhere from 80 to 400 marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey, where cannabis is as respectable a business as pharmaceuticals or technology — with industry conferences, trade associations and lobbying groups.

Forty years later, Cheech and Chong have the last laugh.

“You know what they say: Follow the money,” Chong told the Asbury Park Press’ “Fan Theory” podcast. “You have to follow the money. Legalization has proved — in Colorado, in California — the coffers are being filled with taxes. And that’s all it takes.

“Put a tax on weed, man. It’s been the number one cash crop in the world forever, and now the government’s cashing in on it.”

MORE: Marijuana is going mainstream as New Jersey prepares to legalize weed

The pair were used as the poster children for marijuana users in the 1970s and 1980s: two hippies with facial hair and bloodshot eyes, driving around in beat-up cars (or a van constructed entirely of weed), laughing hysterically at nothing in particular.

“The more it becomes legal, the more we become demonized for being a bad role model,” Chong said.

But in 2018, advocates say that marijuana users are more likely to be doctors and lawyers than Cheech and Chong.

And it’s not lost on the pair: “It’s not strange. It’s joyful,” Marin said. “We have 29 states that have some form of legalized marijuana, and more every election cycle. That kind of says it all.”

MORE: Inside marijuana’s image problem, from “Reefer Madness” to Cheech & Chong to the present day

What’s strange to the duo is that, 40 years after lighting up a comically large joint in “Up in Smoke” – “mostly Maui Waui, man, but it’s got some Labrador in it” — Chong can walk through the airport without getting searched.

“Coming across the border, we got stopped because my wife has too much cosmetics in her suitcase. And they bypassed all the weed I was carrying to throw her cosmetics to the side,” Chong said. “That shows you how crazy it is.”

Until recently, “they would let my wife go through and stop me, search me and of course they always found weed somewhere,” he said.

RELATED: How airports are reacting to weed laws in Colorado, Washington

Marijuana legalization has been a personal battle for Chong, 79, who served nine months in federal prison after he admitted to financing and promoting Chong Glass Works/Nice Dreams, which produced glass bongs and sold them online.

Of the 55 defendants charged in “Operation Pipe Dream,” he was the only one to serve prison time.

“It was made illegal in 1938, the year I was born, so as long as I’ve been alive, it’s been illegal,” Chong said.

This spring, Marin and Chong are celebrating both societal change and a professional landmark: in honor of the 40th anniversary of “Up in Smoke,” Paramount Home Media Distribution has released the film as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on April 10.

A special deluxe collector’s edition with a Blu-ray of the film and its soundtrack on CD and LP, will be released via Rhino on Friday, April 20 (naturally), complete with a new edition of the film’s title song for 2018.

“I still laugh at that movie,” Chong said of “Up in Smoke.” “Even though I know what’s coming, it still takes me by surprise.

“It’s like listening to a (piece) good music: you always come to the nice part and it’s there and you love it. That’s what ‘Up in Smoke’ does for me now.”

Marin and Chong are also still on the road together, reviving their classic material for live audiences across the country.

They play the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Thursday, April 19, followed by two shows at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York on Friday, April 20. On Saturday, May 5, the pair performs at the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia.

Chong and Marin met in the Canadian club scene in the late 1960s, and their pre-comedy careers as musicians have consistently informed their work — including the “Los Cochinos” LP, which won a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording in 1973.

“Up in Smoke” alone features two of the duo’s classic anthems, the title track and the hard-rocking “Earache My Eye,” performed by Marin in his Alice Bowie persona (the later of which cracked the Top 10 Billboard singles chart in 1974).

“We were both always musicians, all our lives, so we look at comedy from a musical standpoint,” Marin said. “What’s the rhythm of it, you know? In constructing movies or bits, what’s the rhythm of it? That’s the most important thing.”

“Music was always a good escape and protection,” said Chong. “If you’ve got an unruly crowd that would throw things at comedians, we’d become rock musicians, and then we’d turn up the amp and we’d fight them back.”

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GO: 8 p.m.  Thursday, April 19, Mayo Performing Arts Center, 100 South St., Morristown, $49 to $89, 973-539-8008, www.mayoarts.org.

GO: 5:30 and 9 p.m. Friday, April 20, the Capitol Theatre, 149 Westchester Ave., Port Chester, New York, $45 to $100, 877-987-6487, www.thecapitoltheatre.com.

GO: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 5, SugarHouse Casino, 1001 North Delaware Ave.,
Philadelphia, $59 to $69, 1-877-477-3715, www.sugarhouseentertainment.com.

To hear our full conversation with Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, listen to the Asbury Park Press and USA Today Network’s “Fan Theory” podcast, available at app.com/fantheory and on iTunes, Soundcloud and Google Play.

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