When Tommy Chong climbed aboard the idling tour bus parked across from Universal Studios Hollywood for the first Tommy Chong's Live, Love & Smoke Tour, the 54 paying marijuana tourists on board were already laughing. A few were already high on more than enthusiasm.
“Hey, man,” Chong asked in the voice that has permeated cannabis culture like a waft of smoke for almost 50 years, “How many people bought tickets thinking this was a pot tour?”
The tour members laughed, anticipating the punchline: “Good!” continued Chong, “Cause it is a pot tour!”
Created by Los Angeles-based marijuana tour company Greentours, the inaugural Jan. 19, 2019, Chong-affiliated event marked a moment in weed culture that participants paid a premium to experience. Tickets for the four-hour, multi-stop excursion were $149, compared with other Greentours marijuana tours that run from $65 to $89.
To most of the participants, cruising through a selection of Los Angeles' notable marijuana sites took second billing to the opportunity to meet and, as several said, “smoke with a legend.”
Hooking Chong to be part of Greentours was a dream for founder Gene Grozovsky, 35. Grozovsky smoked marijuana in high school. He listened to Cheech & Chong. Then life happened.
He got a medical degree and spent 10 years working in patient relations for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. When cannabis became fully legalized, he quit his job and, like his tour guide father, hitched his future to tourism, but a new, “greener” version of the genre.
The best advice about running a tour company that father gave son: “Give them a good time, but above all, give them content.”
Grozovsky took the advice to heart and hired a professional writer for the tour script and cannabis-savvy performers to act as guides. He lined up a dispensary, a grow facility, a glass warehouse and a glass-blowing factory where bongs are made. And, of course, Tommy Chong — the best content of all.
A Long, Strange Trip
Tour guide and self-described weed comedian Stoner Rob, 33, shared the microphone with other comedian tour guides including Ryan Lance, 27, and Dan Kerry, 31. Throughout the tour, the guides variously presented a thumbnail history of cannabis and called out points of interest to movie and weed fans. Stoner Rob told war stories about opening for Chong and hanging out with him on the road.
The tour stopped at the legendary North Hollywood dispensary California Compassionate Caregivers Network (CCCN) and a nearby indoor cultivation site they control. CCCN, in business since 2006, has long been considered the inventors of Skywalker OG. To an experienced user and fan of that strain, that makes going to CCCN a little like going to Mecca.
All tour members were offered discounts on their dispensary purchases. Cannabis now in hand, the participants re-boarded the bus and headed for the much-anticipated rendezvous with Chong over lunch at a Woodland Hills home.
Tables and chairs were set up around a fenced yard with an open-sided tent where Chong held court. The tables were generously appointed with freebies such as rolling papers, tequila-soaked cigar wrappers, Swisher Sweets, hemp wick and plastic grinders.
Inside the house, Cannabis Catered Events served a buffet lunch of gourmet tacos, sides with optional cannabis-infused dressings and a choice of beverages, including cannabidiol (CBD)-infused mocktails.
In between eating and smoking, which wasn't allowed on the bus, the group members lined up for a turn to sit down with Chong. Though 80 years old and a two-time cancer survivor, Chong is energetic and sharp, his mind as nimble as ever. He turned down offers to work with other cannabis tours. He didn't have issues with them, but their mission and his didn't align the way it did with Greentours'.
“They had a plan,” Chong said. They thought about cannabis the same way he did. Chong has said in the past that he's evolved from pot smoker to pot activist to pot educator. “I want to show people how, when, and why they should smoke pot." To him, more than ever, pot is spiritual. “I want to show people how, when, and why they should smoke pot. Click To Tweet
Folks and Tokes
The Tommy Tour members were predominantly Southern Californians from ages 24 to “70-something.” Sara Dale, Greentours' public relations representative, was effusive: “All tribes are here,” she said, “Everyone in our community is on this bus.”
That included carpenter Michael Miceli, 24, who was visiting Los Angeles for work. Miceli signed up for the tour “60 percent for Tommy and 40 percent to network and just experience L.A.”
Melanie Rowand, 45, was in from Cleveland, Ohio. She was drawn to the tour by the idea of “meeting a marijuana legend” but also because, though she's used marijuana recreationally since high school, she finds herself “inside the learning curve.”
Bryan Jordan, 51, also wanted to get high with Chong but had an ulterior motive: to show Chong his invention that grinds flower and rolls it into five joints.
Jim Bourie, 39, just moved to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C. Like Rowand, he wants to learn more about cannabis. “Still,” said Bourie, “getting high with Tommy Chong — that's bucket list.”
They understood they wouldn't be literally getting high with Chong. As each tour member sat down with Chong, he seemed to embrace them in his glow. At this point in his life and career, having told so many stories about himself, Chong has made it his mission to hear everyone else's stories.
“All I have to do is be a good listener,” Chong said.
While some stories were thank-yous inspired by Chong's battles with cancer, most had to do with the place Chong — and Cheech & Chong — still held in the tour members' lives.
As the tour moved on, there were more stops to make, things to see, and history to hear. AMG Glass in Reseda, where a shop called “The Select” sells glass imported from China and India and its own American-Made Glass brand. With the exclusive 50 percent discount, tour members purchased a lot of glass.
The tour's final stop was AMG's glass-blowing factory nearby, which was available only for Greentours participants. Watching an ordinary bong get shaped is cool, but watching one of the artisans craft part of a bong into the shape of a cow jumping over the moon like in the nursery rhyme was amazing.
The upbeat guides kept the chatter going throughout the stops, but among Chong, the food, the bus ride, the activities — and especially the cannabis — more than half of the bus snoozed pretty much all the way home.
As Grozovsky watched his maiden Tommy Tour customers disembark and head for their cars, public transportation, or a ride-hail, he allowed himself a deep breath. Everyone seemed happy, and then some. Chong was happy — enough that he committed to more tours, including the next one scheduled for Feb. 23, 2019.
If it all flows the way the first tour did, Greentours may hit the niche Grozovsky is aiming for. As Chong would put it, “When you hit a groove, it's not you. It's the spirit world.”