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November 12, 2018

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Cheech Marin talks legalization, his own private stash and building a Chicano art museum

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Ron Eshel / Invision / AP

Cheech Marin, left, and Tommy Chong pose for a portrait to promote the 40th anniversary of “Up in Smoke” in Los Angeles, April 6, 2018. The comedy team is playing the Orleans this weekend.

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Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong are back, playing the Orleans this weekend.

Considering the current state of marijuana legalization across the country, you might expect a comedy show from pot advocates and counterculture icons Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong to be some sort of victory lap.

Not the case, says Cheech. “I don’t think it plays into it at all because it’s always been legal to us and our crowd, so it’s no big surprise,” laughs the 72-year-old actor, activist and art collector. “Our audience has always had the attitude that this was inevitable, and now it’s everywhere. My prediction now is that within a year it will be federally legal. It’s just going that way.”

He’s back on the road now with his comedy partner after their successful 2008 reunion, but Marin is also capitalizing on cannabis through Cheech’s Private Stash, an exclusive selection of curated strains. Here’s the rest of my conversation with Cheech, who takes the Orleans Showroom stage with Chong on Saturday.

Your show at the Orleans looks like it’ll be a sell-out. Have you guys ever been offered any sort of Vegas residency? Seems like Cheech and Chong are a natural fit here. There was some talk of doing something somewhere but it never materialized. We’re always on the road and didn’t pay a lot of attention to it but I wouldn’t mind doing something like that, as long as it’s no more than two days at a time.

Your comedy seems to be resonating with different generations of people now, especially with legalization rolling across the country. It’s like a boulder rolling downhill at this point. I liken it to a lava flow: You can stand in front of it but I wouldn’t recommend it. Canada has gone totally legal and most of South America, too. And we’re learning more about the good that can come from it, more medical applications for it.

Your Cheech’s Private Stash is something of a family business. How does that work? My son and daughter work in the [public relations] aspect of it but we don’t grow anything. We’re a curatorial entity. We go out and find the strains people are growing and bring them to the market under our brand, and test every single strain and determine which ones to present. The motto is, it will always be good. It’s not always the same, but it will always be good. We’ve been scoring top marks everywhere.

When I hear your voice, I can’t help but think of the “Cars” movies, which I’ve watched with my nephew about a million times. Are you planning to do more voice work on animated films and TV shows? Sure. Every time they come to me, I do it. I’ve been very lucky to work with John Lasseter and Pixar over the years, and Disney, starting with “Oliver & Company” and then “The Lion King.” I love animation.

You’ve also been working with the city of Riverside in California to create a museum to house the art collection you’ve amassed since the early 1980s. How’s that coming along? It’s more than I could ever ask for. I’ve been putting together this collection of Chicano art going on 40 years and it’s been touring close to 30 years visiting various museums across the nation and Europe. It’s kind of a unique thing because it’s a private collection and museums don’t like to show those for a lot of reasons. It’s like, I have this collection because you don’t. [Laughs.] But it breaks attendance records wherever we go and it just shows if your motives are pure, good things happen to you. And now out of the blue we’re working on this beautiful mid-century building to house the collection.

I’m sure it’s taken a lot of time and energy over the years, to learn how to tour this collection and make it work and now, to create a permanent home for it. It took 10 years to figure out how to do it and how to get sponsored. We’re very lucky that Hewlett-Packard and Target stores saw the vision and put together the seed money to produce the show, and then Target stayed on as the principal sponsor for more than seven years. But I wouldn’t call it a difficult situation. When you’re sifting through those materials you come to the realization of, what good does it do you? What am I going to do, stuff it under the bed? It’s for the people to see where previously they have not had that chance. It’s going to a special place that can expand the outreach of Chicano art and better include it the American canon. Chicano art is American art.

Cheech & Chong will take the stage at 8 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Orleans Showroom (4500 W. Tropicana Ave., 702-365-7111) and more information can be found at orleanscasino.com.