My Father, Drug Icon
Rebelling in my family meant not doing drugs and shushing your parents when they’re howling at Thumbelina while on acid. That’s just how it is when Tommy Chong is your dad.
I was in the fifth grade the first time someone told me he had a problem with my dad.
It was my geography/history teacher, who spoke with a slight Southern drawl and had hair a bit longer at the back and wore cowboy boots under his dress pants and would make us draw maps of the United States on poster board. I got straight A’s in his class and wanted to impress him because I thought he was really neat. One day, he told me he wanted to talk to me and I was thrilled that he wanted some one-on-one time.
“I saw your father’s movie, Up in Smoke, last night,” he told me when I went up to him at lunch. “And I have to say, I was disgusted. I can’t believe he would make something like that. Really, it was just terrible! All that drug use and the sex! I didn’t find it funny at all.” He went on and on like that for what seemed like an eternity. Writing it down now, I feel like I’m making this up. What teacher in their right mind would think it’s okay to say this to a fifth grader? Even a precocious, straight-A, goody-two-shoes one? I went home and told my parents what had happened, hoping they would be outraged enough to go straight to the principal and get that teacher fired. But they didn’t. They didn’t do anything. At the time, I couldn’t understand it—but today, I think their reaction or non-reaction was pretty cool. It would have been like getting mad at a tree or Bill O’Reilly. Would it change anything or would you just get your hands dirty?
Growing up, I felt like it was my responsibility to be as normal as possible to prove everyone wrong about my dad.
I am the middle child of a counter-culture drug icon. The Mayor of Marijuana. The Pope of Dope. My dad is Tommy Chong.
Growing up, I felt like it was my responsibility to be as normal as possible to prove everyone wrong about my dad and Hollywood and all the trappings of being the “daughter of” a famous person. I really cared what other people thought of my family and me (truthfully, I still do and fight it every day). I thought if I was good and followed the rules, then I would be rewarded and my parents’ would be redeemed for living outside the norm—for doing things like naming me Precious.
But people had all sorts of different reactions when they found out who my dad was. They tended to fall into one of three categories:
1. They were huge fans (usually pot smokers).
2. They knew who he was but they hadn’t seen any of his movies (and were proud of that for some unknown reason).
3. They had no idea who he is (although this changed somewhat when he was on That 70’s Show).
When I was three, my parents dropped acid and took me to see Thumbelina. I remember this vividly: I was so little that I stood to watch the movie and they laughed so hysterically throughout the whole movie that every once in a while, I had to turn around and tell them to be quiet. It was snowing outside and they called a taxi for us to get back to the hotel. I remember that it took them a long time to get it together to call the taxi.
When I was four or five and backstage at the Roxy with my dad and Cheech and some other people, I took a joint one of the hippie roadies was passing around and put it to my lips, pretending to smoke. Everyone laughed and it felt good making people laugh. Did I make this up? It never happened again, but I do remember it. My mom is going to read this and say, “Precious, I would never have let that happen” but I swear it did. The smell of pot always reminds me of my father.
One night, after I graduated from college and was working at a fancy sushi restaurant in the Hollywood Hills, I waited on Timothy Leary, an old friend of my dad’s that I’d known since I was a kid. When I told him that I’d gotten a college degree, he said, “You’re my hero!” quite theatrically. I guess his own children didn’t go to school but the irony of the fact that he told me this while I served him miso soup was not lost on me.
The first time I got stoned was with my older sister at a party she took me to. I was 16 years old and I sat between her and a Rastafarian dude and fell asleep on the way home. I got stoned with my dad when I was 17 at a party in the Malibu colony. We were standing together on a deck and he looked so proud when I took the joint from him that it really annoyed me. “Don’t get any funny ideas,” I thought. “I’m still the rebel in our family. I’m still the straight daughter.” Smoking pot was something my dad did. I wanted to drink Diet Coke and smoke cigarettes. Ah, the 80’s.
I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime defending my dad. And I’ll tell you what I always say: he’s an incredibly spiritual and well-balanced guy. My parents are still together. They didn’t really go to many parties when I was growing up. I never witnessed people doing cocaine, heroin or drugs of that ilk. The Thumbelina acid trip wasn’t the norm. Back in the 60’s and early 70’s, doing drugs, to them, was an act of revolution. But my father has always worked out and eaten healthy. The whole pot-smoking icon is, really, just a persona. Yes, he’s smoked pot my whole life. But the dopey pothead character is something he created.
In February of 2003, the DEA raided my parents’ house as part of Ashcroft’s Operation Pipe Dreams. My entrepreneurial brother, Paris, had a waterpipe business and one of his sales staff unknowingly sold and shipped a bong to a fictitious head shop (set up by the DEA) in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. I know it sounds like the B plot to a Cheech and Chong movie, but it really happened. Even though stores sell bongs, there’s a federal law that makes selling drug paraphernalia illegal and each state has their own individual laws.
My mother and father were investors in my brother’s business and the morning of the raid, the DEA told my father that if he pled guilty, my brother and my mother would not be charged. We thought he would get house arrest but they sentenced him to nine months in prison and the opposing lawyer stated that my dad had made his fortune "glamorizing the illegal use and distribution of marijuana and trivializing law-enforcement efforts to combat drug use.” We were blindsided by the verdict.
My attitude about being the daughter of a drug icon changed when my dad went to prison. I realized that you should not mess with the federal government and that “following the rules” and “being good” gets you nowhere. He had not been treated fairly. The US government spent millions of dollars on Operation Pipe Dreams, which coincidentally, happened alongside Operation Iraqi Freedom. Disillusioned is too mild a word to describe how I felt. I was incensed.