Ashes to Ashes, ‘Staches to Stashes
Cheech & Chong, a comedy duo that defined cannabis to a generation. Their influence has echoed through pop-culture for decades, bringing the plant to the forefront, showing how harmless and fun it can be. Cheech Marin, donned with one of the most iconic mustaches in history, played a vital role in this cultural movement, portraying the light-hearted side of cannabis to a generation of Baby Boomers.
Now, decades later, he’s gone from cultural icon to entrepreneur, founding Cheech’s Stash, his very own, hand-picked cannabis line. “It will always be good,” claims their slogan. And with Cheech at the helm, it’s easy to believe. We had the chance to sit down with one of cannabis’ most famous celebrities and discuss the current state of cannabis and how it’s changed over the years, how we’ll reach legalization, and how he manages his business.
Cannabis & Tech Today: How have you seen cannabis change over the last few decades?
Cheech Marin: Well it’s been much more accepted into the general populous, mostly because of the health benefits that it brings and that’s what we’re going to find out more and more, the health benefits of marijuana; not necessarily the recreational, although that’s a pretty good health benefit as far as I’m concerned. You know, to relax and reduce stress.
It’s more and more accepted by mainstream society. That’s what I’ve found just dealing with past attitudes. I’ll tell you, 39 of 50 states have some form of legalized marijuana, so that should tell you everything you have to know.
C&T Today: Did you ever think you would see a day when cannabis would be legal?
Cheech Marin: Sure. I mean, it was legal as far as I was concerned. Lenny Bruce used to have this joke – I was a big fan of Lenny Bruce’s – “Man, marijuana will be legal someday because all the lawyers are smoking it.”
And so it’s amazing to change attitudes in some places that are ruled by religious persuasions and other regulations, but it’s a constant battle that goes back and forth. Even for the states that have some form of legalized marijuana, they’re always fighting a battle because the other side wants to undo all of that.
You know, it’s slow and sure. 39 out of the 50 states have it, so that boulder is rolling down hill right now. You can get in front of it if you want, but I wouldn’t.
C&T Today: Is the world of legalized cannabis how you imagined it?
Cheech Marin: No. I pictured in my dreams that I’d wake up one day and they would say, “Hey, cannabis is legal!” and that was the last thing they ever said about it. But, because it is not legal federally, every state has different rules about it, so we’re not dealing with one united and easily understood law, we’re dealing with 50 different sets of laws, and they’re all so different. But once it’s legal federally I think things will change quickly.
C&T Today: As one of cannabis’s most famous icons, what influence do you think or hope you had on cannabis culture?
Cheech Marin: What we kept saying during our early tenor is that we represented the middle. We were the middle-of-the-road dopers, we represented the norm, you guys just don’t realize what the norm is.
C&T Today: What do you think of all the smoking technology that’s coming out now?
Cheech Marin: I’m in the business, I have my own brand that I promote and we sell to dispensaries, so we’re very aware of the changes in the industry.
It’s remarkable to me that so much is being learned about [cannabis] in spite of not being able to legally test it, you know? To do experiments, to do research on it, it’s not legal federally, so all this stuff has been coming out regardless of those laws.
C&T Today: With so many different ways to consume, I’m curious what your preferred method is?
Cheech Marin: I like smoking a bowl. That’s me, but you know I don’t mind vapes or edibles or, you know, any of those things.
C&T Today: You went from cannabis cultural icon to a cannabis entrepreneur. What have you learned since joining the industry?
Cheech Marin: I learned that it’s a tough business. It is really a tough business because the rules are made out of elastic rubber. Every state has a different approach to how they handle marijuana, and so everybody has this dream that the state is going to say, “Marijuana is legalized!” and they’re going to make a billion dollars the next day.
It doesn’t happen, especially if each individual state does nothing to protect their legalized status, you know? People are selling it legally and have to pay all the taxes and all the tests in all the states, you know? You have to help them by protecting the legal marijuana and not having to compete with illegal marijuana.
C&T Today: Has there been anything about the industry that’s really impressed you?
Cheech Marin: There are so many people that know so much about it. And it’s becoming part of the language of anybody that’s minimally involved in it; they know what sativa is, they know what indica is, they know what hybrids are, and it affects them and all of that information is getting into the general mainstream.
C&T Today: On the other hand, what do you see the industry lacking?
Cheech Marin: Safety rules for those who comply with rules. You know, protection for those who comply, who pay the taxes, pay all the fees that go along with it, and then they need the states to help them out by keeping and protecting them from the illegal market.
C&T Today: Tell me a little bit about your own personal business strategy. I understand your children are involved and you hand-pick your strains. Why is it so important for you to keep this so close?
Cheech Marin: So, [my kids] work for a company that’s involved in promotion and the adherence to the safety rules, you know?
Our buy line is “It will always be good.” It might not always be the same, because there are 100 new strains coming into the market every week.
I’m not kidding, there are hundreds of strains, as many as you can think of, so we can’t say, “Alright, we’re only going to go with this strain.” We’re going to go with a lot of strains, but it will always be good because we test them ourselves.
C&T Today: It is impressive to see how cannabis has changed over the years, in strain number and potency.
Cheech Marin: The potency has, certainly, but there was also strong leaf in the day, you know, but you had no idea where it came from. It could have come from anywhere, you know? We had two strains in the olden days, weed and dope.
C&T Today: How do you feel your “Cheech” character enhanced the discussion around race and cannabis?
Cheech Marin: Well, you know [cannabis] was illegal because they were racist laws, you know? It was called cannabis or hemp even, but it was only “marijuana” when they wanted to brand it as something that only Mexicans and black jazz musicians did.
C&T Today: What do you think it will take for cannabis to reach federal legalization?
Cheech Marin: Will, political will. That’s really what it’s going to take. Here is a contradiction that I still haven’t been able to figure out. Texas is one of the biggest states in the union. And all the biggest dopers I know were all Texans. Yet it has no legal bearing, no legal status in the state of Texas; not medical, not recreational, nothing. That is because there’s a strong baptist contingency there that have, for a long time, read into legislatures and in congress. They have a big religious objection to it, but it’s a sharp contrast to the vast majority of people who live in the state.
C&T Today: How do you think cannabis might change when large, mainstream companies begin to enter the space?
Cheech Marin: Companies come into every industry if it’s popular. They came into cigarettes, they came into alcohol, they came into gaming. If it’s a success, you want to make it a bigger success, you know?
But, alcohol against marijuana? Well, I’ve never heard an argument for medical beer, you know? But there are arguments for medical marijuana.
C&T Today: Do you think that corporate involvement could hurt the industry in some ways?
Cheech Marin: I mean, what you want in the end is the easy availability of it no matter where you go. From coast to coast, you can be in Rhode Island or California, stop into your local store and get a pack of smokes, you know? Or some gummy bears or a vape or whatever it is you can. That then will go a long way towards progress in this area, I think. Because it has more benefits than it has detractors.
C&T Today: If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Cheech Marin: Buy stock in Apple … And it’s the same way with marijuana stocks. Marijuana is sold at least on the Canadian stock exchange and some other exchanges. America chooses what it wants, as far as these kinds of issues are concerned.
A little while ago, I think about 6 months ago, I happened to be in Washington for an event. We got taken to the Supreme Court, to the actual building, and sat in the chambers and Chief Justice John Roberts came out and addressed us. Talked to us about, you know, what it is to be on the Supreme Court and how it works. I’m standing right in the front row and I kept raising my hand and he kept calling on me and the last question that I asked – and all the kids were afraid to ask – was, “Sometime in your tenure, the legalization of marijuana is going to come up. How are you going to judge? How are you going to vote?” This is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court I’m asking these questions. And he says “Well, you know, it’s the states’ rights and it should be.” And so they’re going to kick it down the road as long as they can.
You know, but if it is states’ rights, well 39 states have spoken. Maybe when it gets to be 52 states, they’ll legalize it.
C&T Today: If you could partake with anyone living or dead, all throughout history, who would it be?
Cheech Marin: Oh, I would probably like to get with Timothy Leary once again. He was a good buddy of mine and we spent a lot of time together and I loved to be with him; with all my heart he was a wonderful, wonderful human being.
All photos courtesy of Cheech’s Stash