Pot group opts out of enlisting Tommy Chong for lobby fight

Pot group opts out of enlisting Tommy Chong for lobby fight
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The national trade association for marijuana wants to keep “Cheech and Chong” out of the fight for legalized weed on Capitol Hill.

In an email to Tommy Chong’s representative and supporter obtained by The Hill, Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), said the group “is here to break 'stoner' stereotypes rather than reinforce them and Tommy's character (very brilliantly) embodies that stereotype."

As a result, the NCIA has decided not sign the actor and marijuana activist as the group's celebrity advocate for its legislative push known as Lobby Days, scheduled for the end of April.

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“We decided that a celebrity presence would ultimately distract from the overall mission, which is for members of Congress and their staffs to meet some of the thousands of small business owners who make up the legal cannabis industry,” NCIA spokeswoman Taylor West said in an email Tuesday. “When a celebrity joins in, even with the best of intentions, it unfortunately pulls the attention away from the broader membership and our message that these are everyday businesspeople who deserve to be treated fairly.”

West went on to say that the NCIA has the “utmost respect” for Chong’s long history as a marijuana advocate.

“Ultimately, our goal with Lobby Days is to shine a light on our overall membership, whose work to build a responsible industry often doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and give them a chance to have their stories heard on Capitol Hill,” she said.

Peter O’Neil, CEO of the C&C Cannabis Co. in Seattle, said the company has pulled its membership from the NCIA over the decision to drop Chong.

O’Neil said he thinks Smith sold the D.C. media and elected officials short.

“They understand that Tommy is an entertainer who has also been an advocate for cannabis for over 30+ years,” he said. “If his presence gets more folks to start the conversation about making cannabis legal at the federal level, creating a new green industry that creates jobs and tax dollars, then that is great.” 

In his email, Smith said he’s concerned about advertisement on YouTube that never aired that shows Chong smoking while driving and nodding off at the wheel.

“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,” Smith wrote. “Further, promotional advertising like this is actually a violation of our member code of conduct.”

In an email, Chong’s representative, Jon-Paul Cowen, of Chong & Chong Entertainment, said “there are no issues on this end and we all still share many of the same goals with NCIA.”

“We were invited to participate in Lobby Days by one of NCIA’s members who apparently did not vet it with his superiors,” he said. "For our part, we were simply going there to show our support as we all want legalization to happen in 2016."