Marin was born on July 13, 1946 in South Los Angeles, California, to Mexican-American parents Elsa (née Meza) (1923-2010), a secretary, and Oscar Marin (1922-2015), a police officer for the LAPD. Marin was born with a cleft lip, which was surgically repaired. According to Marin, he identifies as Chicano; he speaks some Spanish and often uses it in his movies, but he is not fluent.Marin's nickname "Cheech" is short for "chicharron", fried pork rind, which is a popular snack and ingredient in Latin American cuisine. In a 2017 NPR interview, Marin attributed the nickname to his uncle: "I came home from the hospital, I was like a couple of days old or something, my uncle came over and he looked in the crib and he said [in Spanish], 'Ay, parece un chicharrón.' Looks like a little chicharrón, you know?"Marin graduated from Bishop Alemany High School and then studied English at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge), where he was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa and graduated in 1968. Marin then auditioned to sing for Frank Zappa in 1967, but instead moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in September to evade the draft during the Vietnam War. Marin met his future comedic partner, Tommy Chong, in Calgary, Alberta.