Can pot save the economy? Tommy Chong sees green

Marijuana is turning into big business, so it's no surprise stoner icon Tommy Chong is getting involved. The Cheech and Chong alum talks to CNET about the industry's growth, the poetry of Twitter and telepathic note-taking apps.

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3 min read

Tommy Chong has all your pot and emoji needs covered.

Neil Visel

Tommy Chong's business has always been weed. Now he's hoping it'll grow like one too.

You might remember the 78-year-old counterculture icon as the bearded half of the stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong. In his decades-long career, he's become synonymous with cannabis. In the best of times, he was accepting a Best Comedy Album Grammy for the pair's 1973 album "Los Cochinos." In the worst of times, he was jailed for sending bongs across state lines.

Today things are different. Tommy Chong is a lifestyle brand. His company Chong's Choice puts its stamp on pot paraphernalia like THC-infused breath strips, prerolled blunts, oil, and of course, marijuana flowers.

The selling point: All buds are Chong-approved.

"We're having a really good time -- at least I am -- testing the different products and seeing the industry grow, no pun intended," he says with a "get it?" laugh.

Chong says he's glad to be done with all the "bogus stuff" he used to deal with. Not to mention, being aboveboard is good business these days.

Case in point: SMOKEmojis, Chong's own set of celebrity-inspired emojis. (Remember how Kim Kardashian's emojis took the app store by storm?) His ultimate goal, aside from advocating about pot, is to make sure it takes only a tap to get your friends together for a toke.

CNET spoke with Chong about the pot entrepreneurship scene, as well as the technology he has (and wishes he had). Edited excerpts follow.

Q: So, why do we need SMOKEmojis?
Chong: Emojis for the most part are very cheerful signs. That's how we communicated before we had the written word.

Pot's gotten a lot more mainstream. In fact, you've got a lot of folks in suits investing in it -- do you have any concerns about marijuana becoming a big, regulated business?
Chong: Not at all. If the demand gets that great, then of course we need big business, because we're talking volume. It's like holding an event for 200-300 people. That's easy to do. But an event for 100,000 people -- then you have to go to big business. You have to have the parking; you have to have the staff to support that type of crowd. It's the same thing as growing marijuana. It'll be big business with a different look.

Speaking of business, you've talked about how pot could boost struggling local economies in places like Michigan. What's the potential economic impact of the marijuana industry?
Chong: Up until now, the legal money raised from pot was usually forfeiture and fines, and penalties laid on by government and the police. Most of the money, if not all the money, went into prosecuting and investigating more pot crimes [instead of going into the economy].

It's a substance that people use for all types of reasons. It's going to be the No. 1 legal cash crop in the world. It's going to outshine wheat. I can safely say this is going to be the product that will economically save the world -- places like Michigan. You can turn Hazel Park [Michigan] into one complete grow room and there you're providing employment, you're providing product for the locals as well as exporting, and you're not harming the environment like a lot of the factories did.

Tech has become a part of just about every industry. What's your favorite technology?
Chong: My favorite piece of technology is Twitter. I like its ability to be instant and brief. You've got to say your thought in a few words, and I love that. It's the American form of haikus.

What piece of tech would you like someone to invent for you?
Chong: I had cancer and I'm still on some cancer pills. The best medication is pot. I smoke pot regularly, medical pot. I get these great ideas, but I can never remember them. I wish there was some sort of mental telepathy way of writing notes. It's probably coming. If we could come up with some technology that takes notes right from the brain, boy, that would be nice.