For decades comedian Tommy Chong has been the face of American marijuana. But when the National Cannabis Industry Association descends on Capitol Hill later this month, the man who spent years smoking up on screen and pushing for America to legalize marijuana won’t be there.
The association has been making the trek to Washington, D.C., for the past four years. This year would have marked Chong's first appearance with the group on Capitol Hill.
“We talked about it and ultimately decided that having a celebrity as part of lobby day would take away from our broad membership being the focus,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the Denver-based trade group.
Chong also projects an image much of America’s growing legal marijuana sector is eager to move beyond. With 23 states and the District of Columbia having legalized some form of marijuana, the industry wants to show the world that it’s not a “Harold & Kumar” or “Cheech & Chong” movie.
“There are a lot of cliches and stereotypes, but we want to make sure policymakers recognize this is a professional, legitimate industry with businesses that deserve fairness,” West said.
Some employers are even willing to pay higher starting salaries to attract more professional workers, said David Bernstein, CEO of the marijuana jobs website Weedhire.com."They really want to take away that stigma that surrounds the business," he said.
An association member who works with Chong on one of his many legal marijuana-related businesses had proposed inviting him on the lobbying trip this year, West said.
And although the group denied him, Chong says he has no hard feelings.
“I understand where they’re coming from. For years, I’ve been the face of the outlaw, the 'Cheech & Chong' persona,” he said in a recent Yahoo Finance interview.
And while he may not have been invited to Washington, he says he'll never stop speaking out for legalization.
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