Tommy Chong visits Hazel Park, receives Key to City

Internationally renowned entertainer, marijuana advocate draws a crowd

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 9, 2015


HAZEL PARK — Those passing by BDT Smoke Shop in Hazel Park on April 3 may have noticed the line of hundreds, if not thousands, of people stretching down the street and around the block and wondered what was causing the commotion.

The answer was Tommy Chong, half of the famous comedy duo Cheech & Chong, and a well-known advocate for the legalization of marijuana. He was visiting Michigan for the annual Hash Bash, a long-running tradition at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

When Chong decided to stop by Hazel Park, city officials gave him a warm welcome and presented him with the symbolic Key to the City, which he proceeded to jokingly smoke.

Chong then returned the favor with his own version of the Key to the City, handing Hazel Park Mayor Jan Parisi a joint “on behalf of all the stoners in the world.” The crowd erupted in laughter.

At 76, Chong seems content, having recently appeared on the hit TV show “Dancing with the Stars” and having made amends with his comedy partner, Cheech Marin. Despite the success of their cannabis-themed comedy albums, the duo split in 1985 due to creative differences, but in 2008 they reunited and started touring again, to the delight of their fans.

In addition to the albums, the pair starred in a number of movies together, which Chong co-wrote, and several of which he directed. Chong also is known for playing the part of aging hippy Leo on Fox’s “That ’70s Show.”

Chong continues to be an outspoken advocate of marijuana. In addition to its medicinal properties, he says it’s useful for inspiration and introspection, and is safe when used responsibly.

“I’m a big pothead, and one good thing about pot is it keeps you in the moment,” Chong said during an interview in the smoke shop after the presentation. “You don’t have to worry about the past or the future, because with pot, you have to concentrate on what you’re doing at the moment. You have to focus, and I think that helps creative people — artists, writers, all of the rap musicians. There wouldn’t be music, period, if not for pot. Look at the Beatles!

“Pot focuses you in the moment,” he continued, “and that’s what all the religious teachers and mystics of the world have always taught us: Be in the moment, and the power lies within. That’s what pot does. Pot takes what you have within yourself, and whatever talent is there comes out thanks to pot.”

Ed Klobucher, city manager of Hazel Park, said he’s never smoked marijuana and that Parisi doesn’t, but he and the rest of council were thrilled to have Chong in town.

“It’s not every day you get an internationally renowned celebrity to come to the city of Hazel Park,” said Klobucher, sporting a lanyard signed by Chong. “Tommy Chong has been a cultural icon for more than 40 years. It’s a big deal for the city. You can see the turnout we have with people lined up blocks down the street. I hope everyone gets a chance to meet Tommy and get something signed. What a nice guy.”

The crowd spanned people of all ages, and when Chong attempted to speak during the presentation of the key, someone could be heard yelling out, “We love you, Tommy!”

Chong later said he was touched by all of the support.

“It was such a nice reward to see the people’s love for me and what I’ve done, and what Cheech and I did,” Chong said. “And it all crystallized on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ It’s almost cosmic, the way we (Cheech and I) went down so far, and now we’re coming back up, and we’re coming back up in such a positive manner. Not just me and Cheech, but the whole (cannabis) culture. Because they tried to eliminate the culture, but they couldn’t.” 

Hazel Park City Councilman Tom Selman said he agrees with Chong’s mission.

“Back in those days, I did inhale, and you can quote me on that,” Selman said, laughing. “We have so many jail cells that are occupied by people who were convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana. I’m sure the private industry that the state hires to man the jails probably doesn’t want to repeal those laws, but I think repealing those laws would allow police to zero in on the hard stuff that really does harm, like meth. Even alcohol, in many ways, is more dangerous than marijuana.”

Selman praised BDT Smoke Shop for its commitment to the community, having been there for more than 40 years. Klobucher agreed and said that events like the Chong appearance, and the turnout they receive, are proof that Hazel Park is a happening place. He said the website Thrillist recently identified Hazel Park as “the next inner-ring suburb to be colonized by hipsters.”

“You see a lot of young people wanting to move in. They’re priced out of Ferndale, priced out of Royal Oak. And we’re at the center of the whole tri-county area here. Housing prices are reasonable and services are great,” Klobucher said. “We’re open to new things, and this is just one more cool event we have to offer. We’re really emerging as the next cool place to be.”