a plastic bag filled with cannabis
Photo courtesy of Parker James

I Gave Up Pot for 40 Years. Then I Went on Tommy Chong’s Bus Tour

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The last time I tried weed was in the 1970s. Now I’m nearly in my 70s and pot is legal so I figured I’d try it again.

“Welcome to the pot tour. I’m your official greeter,” says the man in a “Got It Legal” T-shirt as he bounds into the Volvo tour bus; gripping a microphone and smiling at the 40 or so passengers. It’s Tommy Chong of the famed Cheech and Chong comedy duo. “Enjoy your ride and your high.”

There is, of course, a bounty of tour bus companies in L.A. Want to see the Hollywood sign up close? How about celebrities? There are tours for that. How about some true crime? Yep, there’s a tour for that, too. Now, there are tours designed as an introduction to, and celebration of, California’s cannabis culture.

Green Tours, which offers the Tommy Chong’s Live, Love & Smoke Tour is one such tour company. Guests get to smoke alongside the comedy icon.

I’ve smoked marijuana or weed as we called it, back in the early ’70s. I lived in the San Fernando Valley, where cruising Van Nuys Boulevard and swinging by Bob’s Big Boy burger shop were the trendy things to do. It was the ’70s so of course I drove a VW bug, wore tie-dyed T-shirts, bell-bottomed pants and multi-colored headbands. I also devoured issues of Rolling Stone, which featured the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jefferson Airplane, Charles Manson, Richard Nixon and Muhammad Ali on its covers.

I was just out of high school. My entire family lived in Southern California and most smoked marijuana. My uncle even grew it in his backyard. I remember smoking a joint with my grandfather in Granada Hills. Leaning on his cane, he took a big hit, inhaled and passed the joint to me. I inhaled and immediately coughed out a cloud of smoke. He smiled and took another hit.

It was illegal, but it didn’t seem to matter. What did matter, at least to me, was that marijuana didn’t seem to do much other than put me to sleep. I’d be getting high with a few friends, get that sudden craving for food — the notorious “marijuana munchies” — giggle for no apparent reason and then I’d fall asleep. So I gave it up and haven’t smoked any marijuana since then.

More than 40 years later, pot is legal and I’m a lot older. Although I still read Rolling Stone, I now drive a Prius, and it’s been decades since my last brush with marijuana. I am curious, however. So I book a ticket on the Tommy Chong’s Live, Love & Smoke Tour.

The tour starts out at the Universal City metro station where guests pack into the bus.

Our tour guide is comedian Ryan Lance who also does stand up and improv at places like the Valley’s HaHa Café and North Hollywood’s Playhouse West. As we get underway, Lance keeps us amused and informed; filling us in about the many kinds of cannabis products out there and the variety of highs they produce.

He also narrates an unofficial history of marijuana.

Did you know George Washington grew hemp? According to Lance, he did. And did you know that newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst is considered by some to be responsible for turning people against marijuana?

“His logging empire didn’t have room for hemp,” Lance says.

He adds that Hearst feared that hemp paper would cut into his wood-pulp paper profits, so he used his newspapers to fuel a smear campaign connecting cannabis use to crime.

Whether these historical nuggets are all completely true or not, no one on the bus seems to care. They are more interested in the next stop.

Driving north on Vineland Avenue, we cruise a short distance into North Hollywood and arrive at the California Compassionate Care Network, which recently changed its name to the Medical Marijuana Dispensary. Inside, we stand by while an armed security guard checks our IDs and enters them into the dispensary’s database. We wait in eager anticipation; a few of us sitting on wooden benches adorned with drawings of marijuana leaves.

Soon, a nearby door is unlocked and we are escorted inside. Several pristine-looking glass cases display neat, uniform rows of marijuana buds, cannabis-infused chocolate bars and strawberry gummies, flavored gels, mints and more. The products on display have names like Royal Highness, Platinum Punch, Slurricane and Lemon Skunk. There’s a Natural Sleep Cream and a Natural Pain Stick, both featuring medical cannabis extract. According to the labels, that’s good for cramps, stress, tension, pain and inflammation. I don’t know where to look first.

A tin of cannabis-infused chocolate treats
Cannabis-infused blueberries coated in chocolate. According to the dispensary employee, it’s a good product to start for beginners. Photo by Kevin Hopps.

So, I talk to the woman behind the counter. I tell her my situation: I haven’t smoked pot in years, in decades. It always made me fall asleep, but I want to try it again. Only this time, I don’t want to smoke. I’d like to try one of the edibles.

“Gummies or chocolates?” she asks, as if this is a common request. I go with chocolates. She reaches into the counter and retrieves a small circular tin. The lid reads, “Terra. Cannabis-Infused. Blueberries. Coated in Milk Chocolate.” Smiling, she recommends that for the first time I take just one “bite” —  a bite is what each chocolate in the tin is called — since each serving contains 5 milligrams of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. I take out my wallet and pay her in cash (they don’t take credit cards.)

And there you have it. I’ve made my first legal marijuana purchase.

When I tell Lance what I’ve done, it turns out that maybe I should have talked to him first. Although he swears he doesn’t partake that often these days, he does regularly use a CBD rub for sore muscles. But when it comes to choosing between smoking or taking an edible, he recommends smoking.

“If you don’t mind inhaling, sparking up a joint is a total experience,” Lance says. “Whereas popping something like an edible gummy, it’s like eating … something you do every day.”

After leaving the dispensary, we head for Woodland Hills, where we arrive at a small home in a suburban-looking neighborhood. Curious neighbors watch in wonder as the large tour bus deftly squeezes into a tight alley to drop us off.

We’re here for a gourmet lunch. Sushi and chicken Alfredo served alongside CBD oil which diners can drizzle on their meals according to their own tastes. I’m told that the oil doesn’t produce a high, but will relax and calm you. I decide not to sample it. I’m feeling calm enough as it is. Maybe it’s because I’m inhaling all the smoke floating up from the other guests who are lighting up, sampling their various purchases from the dispensary.

As I move out to the backyard, I hear the smokers say “Feel it, man?” “Wow, that’s good stuff,” and “Let’s try this in a bong,” between the occasional cough. Clouds of fragrant marijuana smoke drift over the backyard fence, and I wonder if the neighbors have any idea that there’s a cannabis celebrity in their hood.

Tommy Chong
Tommy Chong signs autographs and poses for photos during the last stop of the Live, Love & Smoke Tour. Photo courtesy of Parker James.

Picnic tables have been set up in the backyard along with a tent in which Tommy Chong sits, signs autographs and poses for photos, including more than one of him smoking a rather large joint rolled for him by a fan. Smiling into a video camera for what must be a tour promo he says, “Smoke a bong with Tommy Chong. Green Tours.” When asked how he likes the catered lunch, Chong says with a teasing grin, “I haven’t touched it yet, but it’s incredible.”

One middle-aged fan posing for a photo with Chong tells him that he used to live in Chong’s old neighborhood and that he would wash his car.

“You weren’t the kids stealing weed out of my backyard were you?” Chong jokes.

After lunch everyone is loaded back onto the bus —  keyword being “loaded.” We drive to Reseda, specifically, to American Made Glass, a bong factory where we are treated to a demonstration. It’s dark inside. It’s also hot. Hand-held torches hiss and spew fire as workers mold and shape glass, making a variety of brightly colored bongs and pipes which are displayed nearby.

Our final stop just around the corner is a place called The System. It’s a smoke shop full of cannabis-inspired paraphernalia. We tour the backroom, which is packed with boxes filled with pipes and bongs, stash jars, ashtrays and bubblers, most made by America Made Glass. Everyone on the bus gets a discount, and so, there’s a flurry of last-minute shopping, and then the tour’s over. It’s time to return to Universal City.

It’s been a long day, but back home in Valley Village I’m ready to finish my quest, ready to sample a cannabis-infused milk chocolate “bite.” Remembering the advice from the dispensary employee, I take just one treat from my newly purchased tin of marijuana edibles. On the back of the tin, a label reads: “Wait two hours for full effect.”

I find a Jefferson Airplane CD and put it on; turn it up. I go to the couch and sit back. I am ready. I close my eyes. I’m already feeling peaceful, melting into the couch, feeling a little hungry. No doubt the notorious marijuana munchies are kicking in. I put my fingertips together. I can feel my breath.

Breathing in, calm; breathing out, I feel the cool air pass through my nostrils. I’m aware of a slight tingly feeling in my head. And I’m aware that I’ve been staring at my fingertips for an inordinate amount of time. I feel like giggling for no apparent reason, and I feel warm. I feel the music grow louder as Grace Slick belts out, “Remember what the dormouse said. Feed your head. Feed your head.”

Yes, this will be wonderful, this will be beautiful. I’m sure of it. I can sense it. Even though I’m not “sparking up a joint” as tour guide Lance recommended, I’m sure I’m in for a “total experience.” I’m relaxed and ready for my first legal high. And then, I fall asleep.

Los Angeleno