When Tommy Chong served nine months in prison for selling bongs, prison executives used him and other famous prisoners as sightseeing stops on metaphorical map-of-the-stars tours for visiting dignitaries.
Similarly, Charles Manson and Bernie Madoff were sightseeing stars in their prisons, said Chong, who will be in Vegas on Election Day to promote Nevada’s legal marijuana Question 2.
“People come to visit the prisons — people in the industry — and when I was in there, they’d trot me out. They’d come and visit their famous prisoners,” Chong said.
“They would give tours,” he added. “If you’re a celebrity, you get treated very well, because you’re a draw.”
That was in 2003-2004, when Chong and other paraphernalia retailers were imprisoned after 2,000 law enforcement officers spent $12 million sending marijuana people to prisons.
Potheads in Chong’s California prison worked in the garden.
“It was like a holiday camp,” Chong said with no trace of resentment. “We’d work in the garden, cook food, eat it and enjoy ourselves. It was quite pleasurable. I had no problem with prison at all.
“I spent a lot of time making bongs in prison, out of clay,” he said.
The marijuana icon has chosen to travel from California to Las Vegas on Tuesday to encourage voting and meet fans from 3 to 8 p.m. at Shango Premium Cannabis, 4380 Boulder Highway.
Chong, 78, partly credits marijuana for killing cancer cells while he’s battled prostate and rectal cancers.
“I’m cancer-free at the moment,” he said. “I don’t doubt it’s in my body, but right now, I’ve beat it back.”
He’s happy an October Gallup poll found 60 percent of Americans support legal recreational marijuana.
“It’s polling higher than either candidate” for president, Chong noted.
“It’s the gangsters that are opposed” to legal marijuana, he said, “because it’s going to stop a lot of their illegal income.”
After legalizing marijuana, Colorado has had 5 percent less crime, 18,000 new jobs (twice as many jobs as at the MGM Grand payroll), a $2.4 billion economic boost and 7 percent tourism growth.
But Chong also said marijuana has helped creative types from Picassoto the Beatles to computer scientists.
And since he’s a comedian, he jokes marijuana makes other people’s annoying traits seem “adorable.”
Since people have become accustomed to interactive entertainment (thanks, video games and social media), how can performers get more interactive with fans?
The band Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine will set up a microphone in the audience Saturday at Red Rock Resort for a new element called “Ask Richard.”
The band has been doing this recently on tour, and Cheese said it’s now his favorite thing about performing.
People ask questions about the band, they ask to go onstage (which he’ll allow), and make song requests.
“Honestly, it’s my favorite part of the show,” Cheese said.
Journalism transparency: This is one of my own favorite acts. Cheese sings fun lounge covers of rock, pop and hip-hop songs, from “Baby Got Back” to “Down with the Sickness” and “My Neck, My Back.”
AUBREY PLAZA, MICHAEL CERA ALMOST WED IN VEGAS
“Parks and Recreation” star Aubrey Plaza and “Arrested Development” star Michael Cera got into a relationship while filming “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” here seven years ago.
The couple even almost got married here, but though they didn’t, they dated for a year and a half afterward.
“We love each other” still as friends, Plaza said on RuPaul’s “What the Tee” podcast, calling Cera a funny genius. “If you just gave him an instrument that he’d never seen before, he’d figure out how to play it and play a song you recognize in an hour.”
BRIT MTV STAR ENGAGED AT FOUNTAINS
British MTV star Jess Impiazzi (a “Page 3 girl” who went from topless newspaper model to MTV’s “Ex on the Beach”) got engaged to rugby player Denny Solomona on Wednesday night when he proposed on one knee on a Bellagio hotel balcony as the fountains danced.
UFC Octagon model — and longtime former Las Vegan — Brittney Palmer is a painter and she has an art show coming up in Los Angeles.
She tells LA Confidential magazine she started painting at age 21 after a car wreck made her bedridden for months, killing her four-year dancing career in Vegas showrooms.
That led to her moving away from Vegas to study art at UCLA and Brentwood Art Center. Her paintings include saturated-color reference portraits of John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and other icons.
Her exhibit, “I Remember Faces,” shows Saturday-Dec. 5. at Artists Corner Gallery.
Doug Elfman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman. On Twitter: @VegasAnonymous