In an effort to improve their image with Congress, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) decided to no longer have “Cheech and Chong” actor Tommy Chong represent the group as a celebrity marijuana activist when the NCIA goes to capitol hill in late April.
This move comes less than week after Chong posted a video on YouTube. In the video, Chong nods off at the wheel while hot-boxing his car. After exiting the car, he uses a “Tommy Chong’s smokeswipe” to mask the cannabis smell before meeting with his parole officer.
The marijuana lobby is tired of the “Cheech & Chong” stoner jokes and wants to be taken seriously in Congress. The NCIA wants to portray marijuana users as respectable professionals, people whom the conservative members of Congress can relate to.
The Executive Director of NCIA, Aaron Smith, said, “This sort of message is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do with our efforts to legitimize the industry by showing it in a positive and responsible light.”
“Having Tommy out in D.C. for the NCIA Lobby Days will detract from the overall message we aim for with the event, which is that cannabis business people are regular professionals and relatable to the generally conservative members of Congress we are looking to appeal to,” Smith wrote in an email to Chong’s representatives and allies. “We are here to break ‘stoner’ stereotypes rather than reinforce them.”
Backlash from Chong supporters
The NCIA has been taking some heat from Tommy Chong supporters for the way they handled the situation. Pete O’Neil, who runs the C & C Cannabis Company in Seattle, said that he dropped his membership with the NCIA. O’Neil said that the organization disrespected Chong and he is currently looking for a new lobbyist.
“Maybe there’s a reason marijuana is still illegal. Maybe we don’t have the right guys in D.C.,” O’Neil said. “In a couple of years as we mature as an industry we’ll get better representation in D.C., more professional.”
One of Chong’s spokesmen tried to downplay the situation. The spokesman said, “We do not want to escalate this event in any manner. NCIA made a decision based on their understanding of the landscape along with their goals and objectives for the event. We all want the same thing here and we do not want to cause, or be part of, any ripples in our allied goal.”
A step in the right direction
The move by NCIA is a step in the right direction for the cannabis industry. The industry is not going to be taken seriously until it begins to take itself seriously. Cannabis has seen increased support from celebrities and public figures and the NCIA should select a new celebrity supporter who would be able to serve the cause more effectively.