One quiet press announcement over this past pandemic summer has cheered us up to no end, and we all certainly need some good news on the cannabis front as California goes into the fall with raging bushfires and the DEA revealing additional details about their investigation into a number of California cannabis businesses early August.
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AUTHOR: Heather Allman PUBLISHER: Cannabis Law Report
After holding out for years and searching for the right business partners, Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin have finally inked a deal with Eighth Icon, formerly Five Point Holdings, to open cannabis retail locations across the United States, starting with five states and initially including their home state of California, as reported by Michele Elyzabeth in a June 30, 2020 LATF US announcement:
Godfather of Cannabis, Tommy Chong of ‘Cheech & Chong’ has entered into dispensary license with Five Point Holdings Inc. and partnered with Cheech Marin to develop a five state dispensary chain, initially opening dispensaries in California, Nevada, Arizona, Illinois and Washington.
Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin, the irrefutable OGs of cannabis culture, are finally making the leap into the cannabis dispensary business in classic style, meaning “on stoner time,” according to Tommy Chong in an interview with me in early August.
Now is the right time, and we are ready.
Ready to do some good, to come in and pick up the pieces.
With this news that Chong, Cheech, and Five Point Holdings Are To Open Dispensaries In 5 States, we learn that Five Point (now Eighth Icon) will merge its operational philosophies with the internationally recognized Intellectual Property of Cheech and Chong. Together, as partners, they will be working to create a new type of cannabis experience, one that actually aims to interact with customers. Eighth Icon, has, we learn, secured funding to provide license acquisitions, store build out projects and engage in real estate purchases.
By expanding the branded product line of Cheech & Chong, the company believe they are perfectly poised to take their place in the rapidly growing cannabis retail market in the USA. It couldn’t have come at a more pertinent time, this new licensing agreement will allow them to develop experiential cannabis dispensaries bringing America’s cannabis aficianados the new Cheech and Chong brand.
Cheech and Chong’s Dispensoria
“There are a handful of names and brands recognized by everyone around the world and the Cheech and Chong brand is one of them.” says Paris Chong, Director at Five Point Holdings and business manager for his father Tommy Chong.
They needed a name worthy of the icons June 2020 decision to finally start a cannabis brand and after much discussion it was decided that identifying as a Dispensoria fitted the bill. Sitting somewhere between a dispensary and taqueria what better way to excite the tastebuds of west coast cannabis users.
Since the initial report that Cheech and Chong were finally opening a chain of dispensaries, the hits have just kept on coming for the duo. In late July, Five Point Distribution and Chongson Inc. entered into an exclusive multi-year agreement with the Tommy Chong Cannabis brand for cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution throughout California. This exclusive deal provides a powerful advantage for the partnership in the valuable California market, utilizing Tommy Chong’s legendary reputation within cannabis culture.
Outlining this once in a lifetime cannabis deal, Jeremy Abrams, COO of Five Point Holdings told CLR.
In order to build and maintain trust with our customers and fans we must be positioned to protect the brand and having control of the product throughout the supply chain allows us to do that
This combination galvanizes the company and the Tommy Chong Cannabis brand partnership about which Chong says.
It’s important for me to feel comfortable when I’m putting my name on a product. I trust this team so our partnership is a natural fit
According to company CEO Jonathan Black.
Combining Tommy’s brand with the company’s flagship Cheech and Chong Dispensary brand allows us to maximize resources. This enables the company to focus on scaling and opening new markets in both retail and wholesale
Cheech and Chong – The Welfare Office
Talking with President and Chairman of Eighth Icon, Danny Keith, on July 30 and again on August 18, 2020, we discussed the Cheech and Chong’s Dispensoria retail plan, and how this exclusive partnership positions the company to be vertically integrated, selling through its own retail locations and distributing their branded flower to other licensed California dispensaries.
Discussing the deal, Keith told me.
Our company is well positioned to take this legendary brand and develop experiential dispensaries utilizing the decades of cannabis infused content and branding for which Cheech and Chong have become known. The executive team we have assembled is second to none
It is vertical vs. horizontal integration, I know from my research that Cheech’s brand is partnered with Redwood Cultivation and Chong’s brand is partnered with Shango Growers, and they’re both vertically integrated.
I ask if this current deal will be similar in that respect, Keith responds,
Shango Growers is currently operating in Nevada and also in Oregon, so for California, I’m not sure who Cheech’s Stash is being managed by, but in California, we’re going to be the ones who run that brand on the wholesale level. And then, as we go state by state, if there are already relationships in place, then by all means, we’ll work with those relationships.
The really big goal, primarily in cannabis and especially with the Cheech and Chong deal, is that we focus on controlling the quality of the product and this is by no means a slight on anybody else that’s producing product out in the market.
But sometimes even celebrity brands are being managed by third parties, and it’s just not a ‘true’ cannabis brand. People who traditionally license celebrity brands are looking to maximize profit. A lot of times, the only place that you room to really maximize and increase your profit margin, at the retail level, is through the quality of the product or how much you’re buying your product for.
Basically, most people are going to be brokering that, so, as a celebrity brand you’re paying broker rates on flower, let’s say, and then you’re trying to package it and resell it with some sort of margin. What ends up happening is that some of these branded products fail to ever get top quality flower because the profit margin just isn’t going to be there.
We feel by adding the vertical integration component in the deal, in its truest sense, from growing to manufacturing up to final sale, we can then trace that premier vineyard-style that you see in wineries . A lot of wineries box and sell other people’s grapes, but you never truly get that real, true, original product that everybody is looking for. Our intent is that when we acquire these dispensary licenses, we already had our eyes set on taking those next steps in the market that we’re moving into.”
The Retail Plan
The company expects to have products for sale by the end of 2020, and the wheels of commerce are currently in rapid motion, as confirmed by Keith during the course of both our conversations.
In mid August, Danny and I talked again, shortly after the news that the company in question, formerly Five Point, have now changed their name to Eighth Icon, in order to reflect the importance of these new partnerships.
The company’s official press release informs that the new name is a play on the commonly used measurement of cannabis – or “eighth’s” – and the legendary couple Cheech and Chong as the icons.
We felt a more representative name for the controlling company was important for us as we move to transition to the public market. Our team decided that sooner was better than later,” according to CEO Jonathan Black, who continues, everything else with the company will remain the same
Both Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, as well as his son Paris Chong, are all actively involved in the impending plans of Eighth Icon Holdings to open retail cannabis dispensaries nationwide under the Cheech and Chong Dispensoria brand, as well as to manufacture, distribute and sell Tommy Chong’s Cannabis brand throughout California. As they say in the entertainment business, “It’s all happening.”
But where and how did it all start?
In my initial interview with Tommy Chong, he spoke in great detail about his lifelong love afair with the tango, the dance born out of the poverty of the barrios of Buenos Aires. What better analogy to describe the lifelong comedy, film and business partnership of America’s most celebrated stoners.
Let’s go back to the beginning and put this all in perspective. Everybody knows it takes at least two to tango, and not only that, it takes decades of diligent, individual practice to perfect the tango between partners. Those who tango best have tangoed together the longest and with the ups and downs that all relationships must bear.
“Tango is dance, music, and lyrics of course, but also a philosophy, a strategy, a commodity, even a disease. Tango is my tongue, and a trench for shelter, to resist the colonial invitations to universalism. Tango is my changing, resourceful source of identity.”
(Tango and the Political Economy of Passion, M.E. Savigliano)
Fast forward to the present, August 6, 2020, Tommy Chong opens up about his discovery of the tango with me, mirroring many of the same sentiments.
“Dancing is another great exercise that I’m into now, it’s a great exercise, especially for someone my age. And I’m really into learning tango, Argentine tango. I’m working on that, where you can, with Argentine tango, the thing is, you have to be able to know how to lead. men have to be able to learn their parts separately from the women, your partner.
With Argentine tango, it’s the greatest couple’s dance ever. Ever, because it is all improvised. But it is improvised under a strict set of rules and in order to do it, you can’t bullshit, you can’t fake it. The Twist came out and it ruined ballroom dancing. It ruined the Tango. People stopped moving their feet. Old dances were tricky, and you had to practice and you had to learn.
I found out that Argentine Tango is a thing that men can learn to do for years and improve. then you reunite with a partner, and you can dance well together because you know how to dance yourself. Then you can really dance with her because it’s all about communication. What she’s going to do and what you’re going to do, especially with this pandemic.
That’s what we all have to do. We have to go and woodshed and take care of our own needs, and this pandemic is the perfect time to do it. And again later on too. Like with anything else, you really have to go off and work out all the kinks before coming back together.
This energy all comes from the weed. It’s all from the marijuana.”
The First Dance
The duo learn to dance together again.
Two separate brands retain individual identities but the real magic happens as a duo.
History and Styles of Argentine Tango makes the keen observation that “The music of Argentina would not be the same without tango, an incredibly significant style of music genre and accompanying social dance that is defined by the feelings of 19th-century immigrants of South America who helped to infuse this musical style with elements of sensuality, nostalgia, sadness, and closeness.”
Dare I suggest that the same could be said for the culture of cannabis in America without Cheech and Chong. Closeness, authenticity, nostalgia and the Argentine Tango are the crucial keys to Cheech and Chong’s triumphant return to the modern weed world. Sound intriguing? It is.
The duo’s personal tango began in the late 60s, and has been years in the making 50 years after the birth of Argentina’s national dance with only $2000 dollars & a tape recorder to their names and now a lifetime later, Cheech & Chong have engaged triumphant. Tongue still parked firmly in cheek it could be said they invented contemporary American stoner culture and moved cannabis away from those ever-so-serious beatniks with their poetry and jazz towards something freer and full of laughter.
Might their partnership with Eighth Icon give Cheech and Chong the perfect support to give us all some respite from the headlong humorless rush of cannabis capitalism since the birth of Colorado’s adult use legalization back in 2014. Let’s hope so.
Danny Keith…. “Brands”…. I’d like to say that we did get bored after awhile.”
I do miss my surf shop, but the thing I miss about it is not the business side of it, it was the culture around it, and after a while, just like anything else, you look around you and say I’m not feeling the culture anymore, I just want to go do something different.
Which is why i got into cannabis and ultimately, why I wanted to see the Cheech and Chong retail brand come to fruition. I wanted to not only see them back together, but also to see them as a duo killing it in the current cannabis space where they belong, in the hearts and minds and within reach of today’s discerning cannabis consumer.
For Danny Keith, the cannabis industry has really given him the same kind of pump that the surf industry once gave him. Launching the new Cheech and Chong retail and wholesale line, he’s excited to be part of this fantastic addition to the nation’s collective cannabis cultural experience.
He takes the same approach to cannabis that he took in the surf industry….
We were ‘on the map,’ down in Santa Cruz, we became his hotspot clubhouse for people to come visit. We were a hostel-type environment, but people would get lost in the museum type quality of the environment. And we really want to bring that back. And I think that’s what excites Paris, he knows that now we’ll do this by design, now it won’t be an accident or unintentional. Now we’re mindful, and are going to focus on the museum-esque kind of feel when you walk in, and they’ll be merch and they’ll be a little bit of everything.
You’re always only as good as your character. Your word is everything. In business, like both Cheech and Chong, I play my cards open-handed, and they’ve always been extremely honest and open about cannabis, in business and in life. We’re all very keen, or aware, of how we conduct business. It’s a fine line between reputation and character, and we’ve tried to do good business, because it’s a small circle in cannabis.
They’ve each been practicing the right steps for this particular tango for years, in their own individual ways and separate businesses.
Now they’ve chosen their partners wisely the dance begins.
In our August call, Tommy Chong spoke with pride about his son, and explained exactly how he came to be reunited with Cheech.
My son Paris, he runs everything by me, and he uses me very cleverly, but he’s the brainchild behind all of this. In fact, he is the brainchild behind getting Cheech and Chong back together again. Because Cheech and I, we were apart. We had our differences Cheech went off with Don Johnson.
Meanwhile I went and did The 70s show, and then I partnered up with my wife, and Cheech and I were miles apart. But my son and his friend [Danny Keith] they grew up with Cheech and Chong, and they really wanted to see us back together again. So my son arranged for us to get together again, and we had a meeting. And the meeting didn’t really go too well. I hadn’t seen Cheech for years.
And I had texted a message, and my son intercepted that email. And he wrote his own email, that it’s gonna be great working back together again. Because he knew that both Cheech and I really wanted to get back together. Paris finally admitted to me that Cheech was coming over to rehearse.”
So Paris intervened well on Tommy’s behalf, in this case and apparently, in all cases, as Chong chuckles, “He does that all the time. Paris, he’s my guy. He’s great that way,” Chong tells me.
In an interview with Chong in CelebStoner, he reiterates that “Cheech and I have waited patiently to find the right combination of talent and the right team to trust with the Cheech & Chong properties. We both pursued our own individual projects knowing if the right opportunity came along we would do something with our Cheech & Chong brand and with Five Point Holdings, we have the winning combination.
We’re going to open Cheech & Chong dispensaries all over the world. We decided it was time to go ahead with our own stores. We’ve had offers from the beginning. But we held out for the right people and the Five Points people are the right people. Our stores are going to be state of the art. You’re talking to the guys who invented this lifestyle practically. We’re going to have Up in Smoke days and Nice Dreams days. It’s going to be phenomenal.”
In the same interview with CelebStoner, Cheech Marin reports that “The Cheech & Chong movies, songs and comedy bits have helped shape and mold the weed culture as we know it today. Now we’re bringing that trusted, funny and familiar cannabis comedy experience into the store environment.”
Cheech & Chong and 8th Icon
CLR: There are quite a few celebrity brands out there currently, so I have to ask: Why pursue Cheech and Chong for a licensing deal? Or did they pursue you? How did this deal take shape?
Danny Keith: Our goal is to really stand up these Cheech and Chong products as premier products both in the retail space and in the wholesale space. So they actually take a step ahead of some of these other companies who are doing white label brands for celebrities.
CLR: Why sign a licensing deal now, and why a deal with Five Point, now known as Eighth Icon?
Danny Keith: Since you mentioned the timing, I know that they have been holding out for a very long time for a licensing deal, and Cheech and Chong have been quoted several times as saying that they have been holding out for the right time and the right partners. I think that’s why they are happy signing with you at Eighth Icon, why they trust you with their properties, because you have the right combination of specialties working together.
We’re realistic. We didn’t come in to meet with C and C and say we’re going to make you millionaires in 6 months. We know it’s going to be hard work, and they know it will be hard work, but they’re willing to put in the effort and fully participate.
CLR: Why specially is Eighth Icon the right choice for C and C? Tell me a little about the team , how specifically do you guys have the “right talent and the right team to trust with Cheech and Chong properties”?
Danny Keith: Our team here at Eighth Icon, has an amazing history of personal relationships. I’ve worked with the Abrams brothers for the better part of four years now, in the Cannabis space, watched them stand up numerous dispensaries and sell them. I’ve worked with Jonathan our CEO… so our team has no rub in trying to learn how to work together. We already know how to work together. We each are specialists in our own space, with a little bit of overlay, but we have very distinct channels of how we operate as a company.
That’s how we’re running Eighth Icon. Everybody can help each other out, but there has to be a distinct champion for each component that people are managing within the company.
CLR: How many locations in California, Nevada, Arizona, Illinois and Washington?
Why these 5 states?
Danny Keith: “We originally picked those five states based on the 5 states that we are the most familiar with and have friendlies in. Our goal, we’re moving to have 3 dispensaries in California, possibly 4, within the next year. Then, in other states, depending on how things roll out, we have some partners who have licenses in Illinois, Arizona, friendlies in Nevada and Washington. Every state has its own rules.
We really have to take things case by case, one license at a time. For example, our license in San Francisco is actually a social Equity partnership. California will be our main market focus right now.
Now, we do have our regions that we want to work with. In California, its primarily Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Jose Bay, L.A. Basin, possibly San Diego, depending on what shakes out.
We’re simply more selective with our focus opportunities to make sure that we take advantage of the opportunities that do present themselves to us, that we know can best transact with, to benefit customers as well. We’re more meticulous in trying to see what’s a good fit for us. We don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.”
CLR: How did you all come up with the name ‘Dispensoria’?
Tommy Chong: That’s actually a product of my son, Paris, too. He came up with the word ‘dispensoria’, he asked me because the investors and such were looking for a good name, and I couldn’t think of anything. Paris came up with it, him and Cheech; Cheech liked the idea of ‘dispensaria’ because he wanted to get his own creative input squeaked in there…. So, my son Paris, but I love it. I love it. I love the name. He’s the brainchild responsible for all of this stuff, even me and Cheech reuniting at all,”
Chong says this last part joyfully, and with pride. If Paris Chong is the brainchild of Cheech and Chong dispensoria, then his lifetime friend and business partner, Danny Keith of Eighth icon, is the yin to his yang, concerning the brand and their shared enthusiastic dedication to “deliberately, mindfully getting this right,” and matching Paris stride for stride.
They have a long history. Danny Keith actually met Paris Chong at the independent surf shop that Danny owned and operated back in the day in Santa Cruz, in 1996 to be exact. They were part of the same group that hung together and told stories and surfed; that’s how they know each other. While this may seem on the surface to be a simple tale of friendship, their bond was more like a family.
With so many options and so many celebrities and brands out there, why were you at Eighth Icon drawn to this particular licensing deal with Cheech and Chong specifically?
Danny Keith: “Actually, I’ve had a long history with the Chong family and I’m personal friends with Paris Chong, and I’ve been involved in a number of business transactions with them, and I had a company that I had just sold called Cannabis Club TV, and so the whole premise of working with Tommy on his brand, and Cheech, has always been something that wasn’t at the right time calibration-wise for everything, and I did help stand up some of the business In California with Chongson, who runs the brand for them, so I was already in the Cannabis game.
At Eighth Icon, we understand the asset that we are working with as well. We’re not just going to take the “Cheech and Chong” name and throw it on the front of a door or slap it on a bunch of products. We’re creating an experiential experience for the Cannabis user. You have a lot of other stores out there that have a theme, but nobody has the ability to have that kind of culture that Cheech & Chong can offer behind that theme.
When you say Cheech and Chong, immediately people think of smoking weed so you have all of that culture to draw on, 50 years of culture of those guys being the stoners, if you will.
Yes, some of that is tongue in cheek, and some of that has been criticized in the space that gives us the wrong persona of cannabis users, but we feel that we can build movie scene style experiences inside the stores while at the same time,through our purchaser, Jeremy Abrams, we can offer the best quality cannabis product out there, regardless of price and pass that on to consumers.
Our budtenders; we’re going to train them to be more like Sommeliers because I’ve been in thousands of dispensaries and retail stores and there are some of them that are really good, but see, I was also in the surf industry, and when we’d have a customer come in, and I’d only have the hotshot short board kid working the floor and they want to buy a longboard, that isn’t a match. Same thing happens in the cannabis industry.
In the tango, when the dance floor becomes overcrowded, it is important to adapt your movements to the size of the crowd dancing. In a crowded setting, partners should minimize large sweeping steps to avoid possibly colliding with others.
Apply this to the cannabis industry today. The dancefloor quickly became far too overcrowded and with some fairly average dancers. Now the sector is evolving, some well known players have arrived late to the dance and don’t have the necessary dance steps committed to memory.
Most of these tango partners are being forced out or have been sent scrambling on how to do business, or as the case more generally is, specifically, how not to do business.
By default in many cases, 2020 the year of pandemic, is witnessing cannabis aligning more naturally with consumer demand and buyer behavior. The beauty of this contraction of the sector is that it enables reassessment allowing a real life time adjustment of what systems aren’t working in the current market.
Tango rules tell dancers to give priority to those currently dancing, being mindful of your place in the bigger picture. It is important to establish eye contact with the dancer approaching during a tango before you enter the line of dance to avoid collision, but oftentimes, a collision is the natural result of course correction.
There is no accidental collision here. Paris Chong tells CelebStoner that the two brothers behind Eighth Icon, Jeremy and Matthew Abrams already have experience in cannabis retail. Jeremy owned One Love in Long Beach before it was sold to MedMen.
Cannabis Law Report: Cheech and Chong have been quoted numerous times as saying they practically invented the Cannabis lifestyle. Since they have such a strong, established Cannabis “lifestyle” with their individual brands and movie characters, will you be marketing this as its own unique “Lifestyle brand”?
Give me your reading about what you think of the current cannabis market? Its successes and failures? What are you doing in this deal and launch that’s different and won’t lead you down the road that led other well-known cannabis names to a dead end? “What going to offer that’s different than previous lifestyle brands that have failed?
Danny Keith: What we can offer, our benefit and what we’ll be doing differently is that we can draw off of the last 3 years that cannabis has been has been sold in California, and most recently the 30 years of recreational Cannabis.
We can learn from the mistakes that have been made and we can pay attention to how we can build a dispensary that can, conservatively, handle 400 to 600 customers a day, both in stock level and in transactional volume.
We want to earn our customers through proving that in addition to having such a fantastic opportunity to have such a variable asset as Cheech and Chong, we have an able team.
We feel that we have the perfect marriage because we have a team of people who have tried and failed a couple times, and learned from our mistakes, and we at Eighth Icon, with Cheech and Chong, can hit ‘reset.’
All of that industry knowledge gained by our team is being transferred along to this endeavor. Many times, people don’t pay close attention to the customers. The biggest difference in our vision with this asset at Eighth Icon is that we don’t want to be one-dimensional. We want to use data to organically grow. We want to understand and to know what our specific customers are buying, when they are buying it, and how often are they coming into the store to buy it, focusing intently on customer loyalty.”
“We want to interact with our customer base. We want our customers to be able to participate and say that the store is “theirs too.” That’s when you win is when people say “this is my store,” and they talk to other cannabis people, and they are referring other people to ‘their store.’ That’s when you win. You can do anything, but if the outcome isn’t that the customer feels that you’re solving their needs and they don’t have passion for your store, then you don’t really win and you just have that customer for right now. “
Back in the 50s and 60s, customers had a real sense of pride and were super loyal. Now, people just want to get the best product for the best price and have the best experience. There’s not a lot of loyalty to current dispensaries. The nation has built a price-driven customer not a loyalty-driven customer.
At Eighth Icon, with Cheech and Chong’s Dispensoria, they are not going to focus on beating anyone else’s price. They are not going to be the “Oregonian ‘10% less than the store down the street so we can win their customer.'”
They are going to do it the old fashioned way, which is by proving that we know what we’re doing and that we’re going to help you through the process and that at the end of the day that customer is going to be happy. Realistically, anything on a consumer level is highly psychologically driven, it is not solely driven off of price.
CLR: I want to pick your brain on new exciting licensing deal with Cheech and Chong, and your background with Eighth Icon, formerly Five Point.
Danny Keith: Our goal is to do vertical integration plus wholesale in every state that we go into that’s available for us to do that in so that we can continue to add what we call House of brand to our offering. We’re really looking for the seed to sale model, that’s what we’re really trying to implement.”
With these two deals, what Cheech and Chong and Eighth Icon are doing with their new brand is going to supplant the past efforts of some other well-known, but less successful brands.
When asked his thoughts on the current cannabis market, and its success and failures, Tommy Chong agrees with Danny Keith.
Tommy Chong: Well, you know, my overall take is that I don’t want to see anybody fail. I want to see everybody, everybody to prosper and push the cause forward. But it’s a natural thing, you see, because whenever you go at anything to score the money, you run the risk of being a short-term player. You have to have what they call ‘skin in the game’ and everybody, because of the old laws, everybody has that ‘sin tax’ mentality when it comes to pot.
They’ve even gone so far as to separating it from being medical to recreational, but that’s all about money. And it’s so silly. The thing is if it’s medical, then it’s serious, and you can’t tax it the same way they tax alcohol or tobacco or other items that fall under the ‘sin tax.’
The biggest problem that I’ve always had with it, and I’m at loggerheads too with a lot of pro-pot people, but I think pot is medical. All pot use is medical, no matter how you use it, or why you do it.
When they separate it, sometimes I’m just at loggerheads because I seriously, firmly believe that a medicine is something that is designed to help people, you know, not to hurt people. And marijuana, used properly, helps people. That’s my take on it, as far as I’m concerned.
When they go at it like thinking its like alcohol or cigarettes, you know that people are going to get addicted, you’re going make all this money. And therefore, the government will take that money, just because they can… and then you should have to get law enforcement involved somehow… and that’s all bullshit.
The truth is it should be considered a medicine and taxed as a medicine. And all these restrictions, and packaging restrictions. It’s all bogus. it’s all bullshit. You don’t need it.
You know, back in the day, when we used to sell weed out of the back door, we had it in baggies and there was no labeling on it and it was fine. There was no problem In fact, in the old days, the old old days, back when your weed had seeds and stems to clean, it was fun. it gave you therapy. You got to clean your weed and it was very therapeutic. it was therapy. You got to clean your weed. We even designed some of our record albums with grooves specifically for that purpose: for you to clean your weed on them.
Basically, though, it was an overreach on everybody’s part. And the same thing happened with the celebrities. Take Willie Nelson. He’s a great singer, he’s not a pot connoisseur. Sure, he’s known for smoking pot, but he’s a singer and a songwriter. Same thing with Snoop. Snoop, yes, he smokes pot, like crazy, but he’s a rapper. He’s A musician and a rapper.
Then you get around the Cheech and Chong, they’re… well, we’ve been growing it, we’ve been nurturing it, we’ve put it in our movies, you know, as a director I tried to show people how healthy pot users can be. We aren’t gang members running around with headbands on trying to kill each other because they’re on our territory. We were just a couple of potheads looking to get high so we could play our music.
When it came down to branding… like Bob Marley. He is a musician who smoked pot. That’s all. And the rastafarian thing, yeah, they worship it as part of their religion. I’ve learned a lot from the rastas and from Willie. But see, everyone jumped on the bandwagon early, right out of the gate. And that was fine. Okay. But it was not the Gold Rush that everybody was thinking it was going to be… because it is a medicine, and it’s not addicting.
Because it is a medicine. It’s a serious medicine. It’s for older people, people with eating disorders, people with sleeping disorders, anxiety disorders, and mental health disorders. And it’s for creative people. People who write songs, that write books, that write columns, that create. it activates all the creative systems of our body.
And if you leave everything alone, if you let it simmer, it’s fine. it’s almost like cooking oatmeal. First, you put the oatmeal in the water, then you turn the heat up, and then it boils over. Why? Because you put too much heat on it.
That’s what’s been happening in the cannabis market. So you bring down the heat down a little bit, get it down to a nice simmering stage, and everything will simmer, and everything eventually cooks and will do what it’s supposed to do.
So that’s what’s naturally happening with the pot world. It got too much heat, right in the beginning, which is fine. That happens all the time. And now it’s all evening out. The get-rich-quick guys are dropping by the wayside … because you can’t do that. No matter what it is. You can’t get something for nothing. You’ve got to work for whatever it is you want.
And I’ve told that to many, many people. If by growing pot and that’s the incredible thing about the pot plant— if you grow pot, you can get three crops a year. That’s incredible!”
He sounds genuinely happy about this fact, as he continues his explanation:
And you don’t have to do anything to the plants. Other than seed it, and nurture it, and water it. Then trim it, and give it away, you know, or sell it. That’s it. What Cheech and Chong are doing, what we’re doing now that everybody had their shot, now it’s our turn. We’re going to come in and pick up the pieces.
To accomplish this, Chong explains this mindful business strategy
We’re going to come in and buy existing venues, existing dispensaries, existing growers –only the best, the best– and we’re going to take our time, and relax. Because it’s a long run, a long haul, and now we’ll just relax. Relax, and truly enjoy the plant itself. We’re going to do it on our own time.
Save the last dance for me,the third dance.
The politics of cannabis and the C&C approach to the market.
In an April 10, 2020 interview with The Guardian, one of the things Chong finds most offensive about Trump is his misinformed and uneducated attitude toward people of colour.
I knew people like Trump all my life in Canada, we called them gangsters.Just because you were born with money don’t make you any better than anybody else on the planet, but he’s still sticking to that thing that because he’s white and privileged he somehow is better than other people.”
Race, and racism have been at the heart of Chong’s life, movies, and comedy. To Tommy Chong, weed can make everything much better ….
I hobnob with billionaires now, and they go out to dinner with us and they are amazed by the attention that I get from the paparazzi –and from the people. And these billionaires, a lot of them are Trump supporters, and I bug the shit out of them.”
“I said, listen up, if you were taxed 90% of your wealth, you wouldn’t even be able to spend the remaining 10% in your lifetime. So why?? What is so important to you about getting more money? Your job now is to do something with it. Do something good with it.”
On money and dispensaries as more than just a source for making money
In Canada, we have these things called community centers and every city had a community center. So this is my vision. I envision our dispensaries to be like the original drug stores.“
When I ask about if they plan to use names to drive diversity in employment and better industry practices, Chong preemptively replies
Yes! Absolutely. My theory has always been –and my aim, with the money we make through these dispensaries– my share, I know for sure, is going to go back into helping the communities and helping people.”
When I tell him how truly excellent that plan sounds, Chong wisely informs me that money is like anything
If you get too much of it, it’s only good if you give it away. A good recent example is that pile of fertilizer that they had in Beirut. Too much one thing is never good, for anybody. Yes, and that’s what happens with money too, if you pile it up, if you don’t use it, you lose it.So people, they hoard it, for no reason. Well, money is a test. It’s given to us, but it asks ‘what are you going to do with it now?’ It’s a tool. Are you going to use it for good, or for bad, or for whatever. But I know, myself, that for myself, in order to make my life better, the best thing I can do is make someone else’s life better. And that’s the way that it works.
So when we get successful, and I know that we’re going to be successful with this brand beyond our wildest dreams. It’s all about weed. When I get high, I get wide awake. And thankfully I’ve got my phone and I can write notes like crazy.
I get these phenomenal epiphanies about how we could help, and help the world, and the United States, and I can’t wait.” We’re going to have so much fun! Oh, I’ve got plans. I’ve got so many plans. You know how we can save the world?
By putting recreational parks everywhere, like recreational theme parks, like a Disneyland, but I want to call mine “Hippieland.” And put one in every major city of the world. There’s going to be a Hippieland in every corner of the world, and part of the theme park itself will be taking water from the ocean and converting it into freshwater. So we’ll have incredible water parks everywhere.
We’re coming to an era in our lives where we just have to spend the rest of our time on Earth enjoying ourselves, and to bettering ourselves, both physically and mentally, because we don’t have to do the work anymore. We don’t have to do the laboring anymore, because thanks to AI, we have robots that will take care of the heavy, dangerous laboring.
And what’s going to happen, we, as humans, are going to be a whole race of poets and songwriters and entertainers and creatives and audiences,because we need audiences and writer, we’re all going to be artists.
I pause briefly, before replying that if you’re going to aim, aim big. Hey, that’s a great mark to shoot for, right?! To which Tommy says, without missing a beat,
“Absolutely! Aim big, we’ve got the technology. We’ve got earth movers that can do this stuff in a couple years… we could have them all up and running.
When you look closely at what Cheech and Chong, Danny and Paris, and Eighth Icon are trying to do here, you could call this a collective cannabis or community cannabis endeavor.
Their future plans and overall direction for retail cannabis stand in deliberate, sharp opposition to the corporatized cannabis we’ve seen to date, and the final outcome guarantees a phenomenally experiential, inclusive and innovative adventure.
With their unique, invented name, Dispensoria, Cheech and Chong are clearly playing on the similarities that name shares with Taqueria, as both offer an authentic, mindful experience to the customer. I ask Danny Keith to walk me through what a “Experiential retail” store outing will be like:
Danny Keith“These Dispensorias will not just be four walls and a budtender. They will be a real experience, quite literally, with the combined atmosphere that incorporates components of the film, the movie sets, and the overall culture. We might have nearly life-size cutouts for customer photo opps, Hollywood prop style vehicles from the films, everything Cheech and Chong are about.
One of the things we want to do is that with every new dispensary we open is that we want to have Cheech and Chong rung up as the first dispensary sale. We are going to do a marketing campaign where people get support and we’ll fly in somebody for the opening of a new dispensary to be that first customer to make that initial sale. And give them an opportunity to touch the sky, if you will.
Couple that with having an interactive video wall where Cheech or Chong themselves can jump in at any point in the middle of a purchase and have a conversation with a customer about what they’re buying and what strains they like.
We’re going to take advantage of a lot of that technology that’s been around for a while but that we are just recently taking advantage of now. We’re going to use that technology when it comes to the in-store experience. That attraction value for C and C is quite large, so how do we do that differently in 2020 post-Covid world?”
When asked how exactly will the “experiential cannabis dispensaries” plan will be brought to fruition, or how will the impending retail location opening plan be modified, in light of the current pandemic, Danny lays out an interesting and unexpected scenario.
Danny Keith: If Cheech or Chong are sitting in their living room and they want to pop into one of their stores, like in San Francisco or L.A. or New York, to talk to a customer and have dialogue, then they can do that with the technology that Eighth Icon has at their fingertips, ready and available to use to accomplish one goal: to gain loyalty of consumers who know that the brand is authentic, that it is the real thing. It is Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin, after all.
The Dispensoria will be able to host virtual appearances in-store with Tommy Chong, or Cherch Marin, or both, The Dispensorias will announce that they will be at a particular interactive display, at a specific dispensary, at a certain time. People will be able to talk to them, and the store will even have pre-signed autographs for patrons. The team can accomplish this connectivity together, and traverse multiple geolocations without having to physically be there.
They are taking pages out of this new society and implementing them. Think “cameo”, but in a dispensary and not a film, so that the people can actually talk to Cheech and Chong. Inside the Dispensorias will feature a one-of-a-kind retail experience, with offerings from the best cannabis brands. The locations will be an updated, but nostalgic throwback commemorating Cheech and Chong, and for the first time ever, they will provide a physical place to purchase Cheech and Chong branded clothing and memorabilia.
It’s time the cannabis retail shopper is offered a new experience with familiar names and brands. We’re excited to create that for all of the Cheech and Chong fans around the world
Jeremy Abrams, Eighth Icon COO
It’s Not Just About Cheech & Chong
Partners & Wellness
Danny Keith: Another thing that we want to do is have Cheech and Chong do product reviews, not just for their own brand, but also for the other brands that are selectively chosen to be carried in the new stores. And when I say product review, I mean that they will be actually testing the product, filming it, and giving their personal feedback and opinions.
These guys are insanely funny, so this gives them a chance not only to promote their brand, but also to promote other brands that they’ll have in their stores.
It will be a Cheech and Chong rating system. This will help everyone tremendously. If Cheech and Chong rate it, then the brand is happy, the customer is happy, and ultimately, our company [Eighth Icon] is happy.”
On this importantly vital subject of wellness, reflecting aloud to Tommy Chong during our August conversation, I reminded him explicitly about all the prolific, innovative, productive energy that has come from his lifetime use of weed, and how amazing that mental wellness is, to which he quickly retorts,
Tommy Chong: It is! Especially when you look at my age. When it comes to my age now, mentally, I didn’t age. I aged backwards. I got younger, because what happens when you become older is that you become younger, and you go back to what really is important in your life.Once you catch sight of that again, that youthful energy, I’ve mostly settled down. Like Tango. Tango is great for older people because there’s not a lot of jumping or harsh movements. It’s repetition and technique. Technique, technique!
If you look at the feet of these old Tangoleras, you can’t tell how old they are by their feet. They could be 80 or 90 years old but you can’t tell. They could be 16 or 60 or 20. That’s me, I’ve aged backwards and now, nobody knows.”
During our conversations, I learned from Keith that the truly “beautiful thing” about this plan is that Jeremy Abrams, who is running the dispensary side of things and will be in charge of buying.
Danny Keith: With Jeremy Abrams, however, he really always balances out inventory. Let’s face it, many dispensaries don’t focus at all on the wellness side of things. They just focus on the “get high” side of things, you know, and Eighth Icon really wants to have a great wellness section in their stores. That’s something that the company and Cheech and Chong have already talked about. These men are getting up there in years, after all, even if they don’t seem to be culturally aging one bit.
While the wellness sector makes up a small sub-section of the total sales of the industry, but, according to Keith, that’s just because people don’t really pay it the homage they ought to.
Danny Keith: We’ll have tinctures and creams and edibles, for people who maybe don’t want to get high, but who really want to use the medicine to help themselves. We want to be the destination for them just as much as the destination the ‘Weed Head’ who wants to buy the best, highest testing flower or dabs or whatever. Not to say that we can be everything to everybody, but we’re going to do our best to cover our bases and to make sure be a well-rounded, well- prized offering to our customer base as they come in.
When I asked Danny during our July conversation if Eighth Icon and Cheech and Chong have gained any insightful perspective during this pandemic, insight that led to this current exciting deal and announcement, he told me that they are absolutely taking advantage of all the technologies, such as self-serve kiosks for ordering in their retail locations, saying “We’re using technology on every facet of this new launch, including our Cheech and Chong’s Takeout Delivery Service, launching soon.”
Data & Technology
They are also using data actively to build and grow the customer base. Keith tells me that oftentimes, it can be the easiest things that get overlooked in the drive to acquire the elusive consumer, because, he explains, many cannabis companies go into such depth trying to acquire customers that the reality is: In the cannabis world, they are ravenous for information so people are reading about stuff via Instagram or the web or LinkedIn or in print.”
When a customer comes into a Dispensoria after they’ve educated themselves and asks the budtenders why they don’t carry a particular branded product, companies really need to listen to those consumers. In cannabis, every brand and every store needs to listen and understand and adapt to their consumer’s needs.
Everybody throws their flag down on the ground at some point and say this is where we are going,” Keith exclaims, but it’s okay to move that flag too sometimes, if you start realizing that what you are providing isn’t necessarily exactly overlaying with the consumer base you’re trying to serve. So I just think there’s a few more psychological things that we can do with this new deal.
In the new stores, from experience for the consumer, from walking in and feeling like you’re on a stage, to carrying the best products at the right price, Cheech and Chong will have it all. It’s a natural evolution for these new Dispensorias.
These are a few of the great ways for Cheech and Chong to go forward, because as a consumer, I really haven’t heard anyone put it quite like that when it comes to cannabis. It’s always about the better price for most companies in the space, or the best price. It’s important, however, for cannabis consumers to realize that good quality, the best quality in the case of Cheech and Chong, doesn’t always come at the lowest price. But it does come at the right price.
Concerning price and quality product, the team is diligently working with the likes of BDSA and others, tracking what’s happening in the industry, and believe me, Eighth Icon is not afraid of the data. We all watched the 2019 vape crisis happen, and the vape category went down 20% in sales, according to Keith. But the market didn’t go down. The market stayed the same. Categorically, people simply shifted to edibles or tinctures or flower, dry herb.
Danny Keith: We know flower is anywhere between 25-35% of your total sales, and that’s bulk flower, cones, prerolls, stuff like that. So we know that we need to have a good cornerstone on the flower. So that’s number one,” reports Keith, “Number two, we start looking at adding in a little bit of that ‘Wellness’ side into the mix. Because let’s face it, while we feel we currently can span the 20 to 60 age range, and we’ve all discussed these plans and this data with Cheech and Chong themselves. They are aware that these customers are going to be more focused on the wellness side of things; they’re more focused on the tinctures and the solid edibles.
This unique approach to the new retail locations is refreshing because it’s about people and not profit. Traditionally, as just discussed, there’s no “wellness” category. As a consumer, that’s a shame because wellness is a good way to introduce people to cannabis, through tinctures, edibles, and topicals. Right now, however, the Dispensoria really wants to focus on their introductory components with this new launch, and will focus more on our eclectic, seasoned brands later. “You can buy cool bongs online to elevate the smoke sesh at Everything for 420″
They have the time to wait on that. Cheech and Chong have patiently waiting for decades for cannabis to catch up to the culture. They know the vape and flower business is always going to be there. For now, the brand will focus on anything only in how it pertains to what their customers are looking for.
Let’s Wrap It Up
As far as to what we know about the tango steps moving forward with this deal, I asked Danny Keith what the next target states will be for Cheech and Chong’s Dispensoria, beyond the initial five states that were announced in July 2020.
Danny Keith: They are looking at any and all states that they can add market and quality to, and would consider any state that’s legal and has an existing market on which Eighth Icon feels they can grow, and anywhere that they know the Dispensoria can fill a true consumer need, not just an opportunity, in that state or region.
In fact, there are some states still treading lightly in the cannabis space, and the company doesn’t want to chisel anything out of granite. Effectively, Our main target is to acquire a party who is fully operational and who is looking to pivot and we can acquire immediate revenue. Our first San Francisco will be a build-up from the groundfloor, so each situation is different. Six months might not be in our wheelhouse at the moment. We’re looking to move much faster than that.
In August, while closing out my interview with Tommy Chong, I ask him if there any plans for a Cheech and Chong Cannabis Cup, in order for the public to see which grower in their close knit cannabis community can help the brand deliver the best. Chong answers me excitedly
“Oh for sure, for sure, but the problem is, they’re all winners! That’s the way I think of it, that everyone is a winner.”
Concerning this noble collective canabis mission of everyone winning, each of the key players discussed here have “skin in the game,” as Tommy Chong would fondly say. To be sure, all generations involved are ‘taking the lead’ in this family tango in their own individual ways and specialties.
As to when the initial Dispensoria will be opening, Eighth Icon has got some very exciting things coming down the pike, like some new additions to their board. They’ve already secured a license in San Francisco, so yes. They’re moving pretty fast.
At Eighth Icon, these are not “money people” who want to play in cannabis, or “cannabis people” that have never raised money before. While they are still learning and have humility, the team feels like they’ve seen it all.
Danny Keith. Cannabis has been part of my life since I was a teenager, so we’re all well versed and we have great relationships in the space, and people look at us, not necessarily as thought leaders, but we’re well respected. We’ve never burned anybody.”
The company has three attorneys in their company, and it’s a real benefit to have that much counsel, according to Danny Keith, who explains further that…..Our attorneys are involved from day one. We consummated the S.F. license within a week. We knew what we wanted. The partners knew what they wanted. There wasn’t a bunch of B.S. going back and forth. We’re thinking we can get 7-8 stores up in the first year.”
Cheech and Chong’s Dispensoria Business Plan
PHASE 1: CHEECH AND CHONG RETAIL STORE
PHASE 2: ECLECTIC MIX OF TOP BRANDS IN MARKET, CHEECH AND CHONG’S RESPECTIVE INDIVIDUAL BRANDS
PHASE 3: SELL TOP BRANDS IN JOINT CHEECH AND CHONG’S DISPENSORIA RETAIL STORES BASED ON CONSUMER DEMAND AND BUYER BEHAVIOR
Obviously, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, and all involved parties are already leaving an indelible mark on our national cannabis landscape. Their unique Cheech and Chong Dispensoria and Eighth Icon business blend is sure to attract not only the fans, but the Cheech and Chong cannabis consumer, meaning the OG consumers who are looking for the best products at the best price with the best customer support.
The team has these goals on point and are ready to go, opening in early spring 2021, if all goes as planned.
As a result of the pandemic, cannabis has been deemed an essential service. When asked what responsibility fo you feel comes with this distinction, concerning the new Dispensoria brand, Danny solemnly replies,
Yes, we feel much responsibility. The fact that people are still sitting in jail for an industry that is now considered essential. And they didn’t do anything violent to get there, they need expungement. So that’s when we’ll see real change, I think. I believe that it will continue to progress because we are in a Cannabis Revolution globally, not just on a national and local level. And I think that’s real change, when those who are inncarcerated and our banking issues get addressed.
From there, just don’t schedule cannabis the wrong way so that it kills retail in terms of ending up dealing with the pharmaceutical thing because that’s the biggest fear we have, right? Is that some of our presidential candidates talk about just changing it to a Pharmaceutical Plant… and we have such a rare opportunity that we have this plant that is so varied in what it produces that you have to have a free market to exploit that, you have to have brands and you have to have these combinations of strains and we have to continue to learn about and discuss new chemicals and new properties that are in these plants that we never talked about before.
He’s right. Ten years ago, we weren’t talking about terpenes and THC and THCa and CBD, or CBG and CBN, or any of the specific cannabinoid stuff. Currently, however, we’re still on the precipice of learning more about this plant, and as we learn more about this plant, it erodes the pharmaceutical market and the liquor market, both of which have taken a hit since cannabis.
Danny Keith: I just believe that there are multiple levels that need to get pulled in order for us to honestly move forward. I feel like some of our regulation is good and some of that holdback is good for the industry. We will not sacrifice our customers safety for any product. We just won’t do it. We’re always going to stay moral. We’re always going to stay legal, and that’s where we’ll focus.
Eighth Icon dosen’t need to make a couple extra points by cheating and bringing back door product into their dispensaries. They absolutely won’t do that. According to both Chong and Keith
We are going to play by the rules and we’re going to put our best foot forward and we’re going to realize that our main service is always to that consumer. We always going to stay focused on running our business through our consumers eyes, because if not, then we’re just like any of the other dispensaries or liquor stores.
And that goes for all of us at Eighth Icon and for Cheech and Chong, as well. We are not saying we’re going to be the best. We are just saying that we are going to 100% focus on being the best.
After talking with Tommy Chong and Danny Keith, they all want this endeavor to accomplish a symbiotic relationship with the consumer, not a parasitic one.
As Danny Keith assures me, they are not going to be just a “kitschy, branded store.” He continues by telling me that their team if players are going to make sure that if there were Michelin stars, they “Will earn Michelin stars in the Cannabis space… from earning them for operating a celebrity branded store to the complete eco-spirit of support around that.”
Remember, we are not talking about just another group of Wall Street types, who are just dumping a bunch of money into any cannabis endeavor available to them. Eighth Icon and the Dispensoria brand will actually take existing solid cannabis businesses, before engaging the serious cannabis customer at a level where they feel so comfortable, that it will be the quality, the service, the product, and the price, and the experience that differentiate this brand from all competitors.
To drive home the kind of methodology they’re striving to accomplish, every one of them that I’ve talked with wants to be top notch. They expressly don’t want to take the Cheech and Chong name and just coattail it, and that’s going to be their success, the culmination of this decades-long tango.
The name is only an entry-level component, by the way. According to both Danny Keith and Tommy Chong, they know internally that they have the necessary character to fulfill their cannabis reputation, but as for externally, Danny closes our interview by saying
“We have to earn the rest of it.”
All we currently have left to say at Cannabis Law Report is to keep watching the market, because Eighth Icon is not skipping a beat when it comes to Cheech and Chong’s Dispensoria, and it is shaping up to be one beautifully refreshing ballroom dance on a dance floor currently filled with other cannabis players who are stuck doing the twist, just like they did last summer.
We’ll leave you with one last surprise that’s sure to put a grin on your face: Cheech & Chong’s Take Out.
RELATED PRESS & SOURCES
² The Next Big Thing?: Cheech and Chong marijuana dispensaries, Westfair Communications
⁴ Cheech and Chong Are Finally Opening a Dispensary, International High Life
⁵ Cheech & Chong Make Dispensary Deal with Five Point Holdings, Cannabis Law Report
⁹ 5 Things We Learned About Cheech Marin, One Cannabis
¹⁰ Tommy Chong: ‘We were always high. That was the job’, The Guardian
¹¹ Tommy Chong talks about new Cheech & Chong dispensary, Media Mikes
¹² Cheech Marin Knows What’s Good (And His Weed Is Living Proof Of It), Benzinga Cannabis
¹³ Cheech & Chong Make Dispensary Deal with Five Point Holdings, CelebStoner