MONTREAL — Cheech and Chong have got some pretty blunt advice for Prime Minister Stephen Harper when it comes to Canada’s marijuana’s laws.
“Wise up,” Cheech Marin says with some glee when asked what he’d tell the prime minister.
Chong, who hails from Edmonton, nods in agreement.
The team of tokers is miffed that Canadian authorities, after nearly decriminalizing pot a few years ago, have made a 180-degree policy shift which culminated in a rash of recent marijuana arrests.
“I would tell Stephen Harper to let go of George Bush’s butt,” Chong chimes in. “Your head’s too far up there. Get your head out of his butt. He’s gone. George is gone. He’s history, Stephen.
“In fact, turn it over to other people who care about more important things.”
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office was not immediately available to comment.
Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong, who have grown from a stoner counterculture act when they started in 1970s, are cultural icons when it comes to doper humour.
Besides performing live, the duo have released several comedy albums and films and appeared in numerous TV shows. Marin was a regular in the cop drama “Nash Bridges” while Chong had a recurring role on the comedy “That ’70s Show.”
They went their separate ways in the 1980s, with reports of friction between them, but returned to working together on a variety of projects, including their current tour, in the late 1990s.
Needless to say, they are unabashed advocates of legal marijuana.
Cheech and Chong were in Montreal where they hosted a show last week at the Just For Laughs Festival, doing some of their fabled bits. It’s their only Canadian date for now.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, they were more than happy to hold forth on their favoured herb.
“The trouble with the law is that pot is quasi-legal,” ventured Cheech, whose father was a Los Angeles police officer for 30 years.
“It’s a grey area. You don’t know if it’s legal or isn’t legal. It’s like being quasi-pregnant. Either you’re pregnant or you’re not.”
Marijuana for medicinal use has been allowed in Canada for nearly a decade and was nearly decriminalized by Parliament seven years ago. After taking office in 2006, the Conservatives announced they would not revive a Liberal bill to reform marijuana laws.
Last month, police arrested 35 people in raids on clubs in Quebec which supply visitors with marijuana, ostensibly as therapeutic treatment for certain medical conditions. A club in Toronto was also raided two months ago.
Chong sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the face of British Columbia pot activist Marc Emery, who now faces five years in a U.S. prison after being deported from Canada earlier this year. Chong said he wasn’t surprised Emery was deported.
“I’m insulted. As a Canadian I’m insulted that Harper would go to that length.”
He said marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Cheech’s grandmother used it for arthritis and his wife used a hemp-based cream.
“It’s a political football that the Conservatives jump all over,” Chong said of the marijuana debate.
Health Canada says there are definite distinctions between regulated medicinal marijuana and street use.
“Health Canada does not advocate the legalization of marijuana. Marijuana remains an illegal and controlled substance, similar to other controlled products,” spokesman Gary Holub said in an email. “Unlawful possession is a criminal offence.”
Cheech, who is now 64, and Chong, 72, both got turned on to pot when they were young.
“It was like a really hush-hush thing,” Cheech said of the era. “My roommate turned me on and it was like, ’Wow, how soon can I quit my job?’ ”
Chong said he got high when he was 18. A jazz bass player handed him a marijuana cigarette and a Lenny Bruce record — and the rest is history.
“Lenny Bruce got me into comedy so really the pot and Lenny together is why we’re here now.”
He said smoking pot wasn’t a big deal then because many people didn’t recognize the smell.
“I remember someone asked us what kind of tobacco that was,” he said of one time when he imbided during a visit to Kelowna, B.C. “After we stopped laughing for a half-hour we told them it was Italian.”
But pot has landed Chong behind bars. He served nine months in 2003 for selling pot pipes.
Cheech and Chong enjoy the comedians that have imitated their act over the years but they take pride in their originality.
Cheech says they always reflected the mainstream “middle-of-the-road dopers.”
“I think what made us was the fact that back in the day people would talk about stoners. We were the stoners — so much so I ended up going to jail because I was such a good actor they believed that’s who I really was.”