Cannabis Association to Tommy Chong: Sorry, It’s Not Personal

While the comedian and entrepreneur has been a prominent advocate for legal marijuana, the National Cannabis Industry Association decided that Tommy Chong's message to Washington could be the wrong one for its legislative fly-in. Chong says he understands.

Sorry, Tommy, but your services won’t be needed this time around.

Longtime comic actor and marijuana-backing entrepreneur Tommy Chong won’t be going to Washington later this month to attend the National Cannabis Industry Association’s fourth annual legislative fly-in, which cuts both ways for the trade group.

Chong is a prominent advocate for legalization and a board member for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He’s also well-known for being sent to prison on felony charges after his company sold drug paraphernalia online—a sentence his supporters believe was unjust. Those things combined create image problems for an industry that wants to be taken seriously.

“We talked about it and ultimately decided that having a celebrity as part of lobby day would take away from our broad membership being the focus,” NCIA Deputy Director Taylor West told Yahoo Finance last week.

We all want the same thing here, and we do not want to cause, or be part of, any ripples in our allied goal.

Of particular issue was an ad Chong created for a product he sells, Tommy Chong’s Smoke Swipe, which removes the smell of smoke from clothing. The ad, which plays with stoner stereotypes that Chong has worked into his comedy for decades, shows Chong using the product before meeting with a parole officer.

The ad “was released less than a week ago and only intensifies my previous concern,” NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith wrote in a an email to Chong’s representatives that was obtained by Politico last month. “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.”

NCIA’s decision to distance itself from Chong has been controversial in the industry—at least one Seattle business owner who talked to Politico noted that he’d dropped his membership over the “disrespect” to Chong, who played a key role in Washington state’s successful legalization effort. But Chong’s spokesman noted that the star understood the concerns.

“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,” the spokesman said. “We all want the same thing here, and we do not want to cause, or be part of, any ripples in our allied goal.”

Big Plans for Marijuana Policy

With or without Chong, the NCIA Policy Symposium & Member Lobby Days, scheduled for April 28-30, promise to be significant for the industry, which has gained momentum in recent years.

With decriminalization and legalization becoming political issues in many states, and with President Obama appearing to soften his opposition to the drug, the association will head to Washington at a critical time for the industry. Pressure may be mounting for Congress to move marijuana to a lower level on its schedule of controlled substances. Also on the table: legislation that would ease financial burdens on legal pot businesses, a measure that has already received public support from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

NCIA emphasizes that the political climate is particularly important now—and Cheech and Chong may not be the proper messengers to send to Congress.

“There are a lot of cliches and stereotypes, but we want to make sure policymakers recognize this is a professional, legitimate industry with businesses that deserve fairness,” West said.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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