Showing posts with label marijuana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marijuana. Show all posts

12 July 2019

Weed Meets Greed in Matt Phillips' Countdown + Interview

by Lawrence Maddox

Prop 64 Noir?
In 2016 many saw the passing of Proposition 64, which finally legalized the recreational use of marijuana, as the dawning of a new day in California. It seems like ancient history when Robert Mitchum saw jail time for toking a little Mary Jane in Laurel Canyon, but consider this: in 2003 Tommy Chong was sentenced to nine months in jail for selling bongs through his California company Nice Dreams. Prop 64 reflected how the Golden State had, at long last, mellowed out about getting high.

The full force of the new law didn't happen until last year, when legal sales for non-medical use were allowed. Licenses for dispensaries were granted. Everything was supposed to be chill for those in the bud business.

All that went up in smoke when the harsh reality of local, state and federal taxes hit legal dispensaries. According to a McClatchy article, between state and local taxes, weed could be taxed up to 45 percent. The IRS has gone after state-legal dispensaries for a tax rate of up to 70 percent.

The result hasn't been the well-regulated pot industry Californians voted for. Instead, illegal underground marijuana dispensaries are everywhere in California.  According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 200 illegal marijuana businesses operate in Los Angeles alone. Illegal dispensaries are attractive because their untaxed kush is up to 50 percent cheaper than what you'd buy from a licensed dealer. What becomes of all that untaxed ill-gotten revenue?

Matt Phillips' Countdown (All Due Respect), a timely, gritty tale of weed and greed, is the first novel (Please correct me with other titles if I'm wrong!) of what I'll call Prop 64 Noir. It takes the plight of underground dispensaries with a lot of illegal cash-on-hand and chases it to a bloody and riveting conclusion.

Donny Zeus Echo and Abbicus Glanson are two ex-soldiers, tweaked by their violent combat experience in "Eye-Rack," trying to make their way in a seedy San Diego that has literally gone to pot. Jessie Jessup is a transplanted Texan who uses aquaponics –"that's right, fucking fish"–to grow some righteous weed. LaDon Charles is her unlicensed dispensary's muscle, providing street smarts and neighborhood connections.

With dispensary robberies on the rise and forced to keep their black market money from the prying eyes of the I.R.S. Jessie and LaDon turn to Abel Sendich, another vet. Abel runs a one-man security operation that stashes illegal cash under lock-and-key, safe from the I.R.S. and armed robbers. When Sendich and Glanson bond over their military background after a chance encounter, Sendich recruits Glanson to help him in his faux Fort Knox operation. Glanson has other plans, and his former "battle buddy" Echo is only too glad to help. When LaDon suspects that Glanson and Echo are targeting Jessie's shop, a suspenseful countdown to mayhem begins.

Though Countdown marches to its inexorably violent end, Phillips takes time with his characters. Jessie pursues a crush. LaDon plays a cat-and-mouse game with a pimp. Glanson agonizes over a physical trait that dooms his chances at romance. Echo, suffering from PTSD, unravels. You get to know Phillips' characters so well, you almost feel sorry for them when the bad things start to happen.

Phillip's San Diego isn't the sunny, upscale enclave it's often portrayed as. It's not the San Diego of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It's a pit filled with mini-malls, dive bars, and shabby apartment complexes.  Iraq vets at loose ends roam strip joints, pimps run hookers. Marijuana is the drug of the moment, but heavy drinking is the order of the day. Like the weed and booze, the money is a means to one end: escape. Countdown is a sunny SoCal postcard in negative; an invitation to get out of the Golden State before the good times turn deadly.

Author Matt Phillips
Lawrence Maddox: Countdown is the first crime novel I've read that tackles the failure of Prop 64 to fully regulate California's marijuana dispensaries, which were licensed last year. I'm officially naming it Prop 64 Noir, and you may have invented it! How did you jump on this in such a timely way?

Matt Phillips: Prop 64 Noir-I freaking love it! It's about time somebody created a new genre. I agree with you that Prop 64 has failed in some ways. There's no doubt this legislation has failed when it comes to fair "regulation." Lot's of small growers are losing out to corporate folks.  And, yeah, that means growers and sellers are forced to stay in or resort to the black market. Another paradox is that now I can stroll into a dispensary and buy whatever I want.  Tell the truth: I kind of miss the mystery of texting a guy I slightly know to get in touch with a hookup he slightly knows for a dime bag of weed. I think they call that nostalgia.

Anyhow, I was interested in the money behind the herb. If these growers, sellers, etc, can't put it in a bank, what do they do with it? After speaking with some law enforcement folks I know, I had a pretty solid idea for a great story. That's how Countdown began for me.

Beyond that, right near where I live in San Diego–a pretty hip neighborhood–an illegal dispensary was raided and shuttered. That pretty much solidified the idea for me. I just ran with it.

Speaking of Prop 64 noir, check out the novel 101 by Tom Pitts. He did Prop 64 Noir before I did.

LM: I highly recommend Pitts' 101 too. 101 depicts the weed biz before Prop 64, though.  Your book deals with the aftermath of 64. Countdown is about the illegal dispensaries, the need to hide the money, the tax burden that forces the sellers underground. 







A crime novelist in the making. Matt Phillips training to be a journalist at
North Carolina Central University.
How much does your journalism background influence your crime fiction?

MP: The biggest way journalism has impacted my fiction is through dialog. There is no substitute for listening to people speak and trying to write it down as they say it. That helps a writer learn the shape of a person's speech. It means getting into rhythm and cadences and the musicality of speech. Dialog, to me, is about capturing language.

From a weed-perspective (Been waiting for that one!), I wrote a story for the food section in The Denver Post a few years back. I interviewed a chef who makes cannabis edibles. The whole idea was to treat cannabis like any other ingredient. We published a recipe and everything. Gave it the regular food writing treatment. The story got a lot of pushback from readers, but the editors defended it heartily and it got me interested in marijuana as something natural that–and I'm being blunt here–has a major impact on the power dynamics in our society.

Make no mistake, what we're seeing with marijuana now is still about power. Who will own this "thing" that everybody wants (and some people need)? Who gets the profits? Who calls the shots? And even worse:If we can't put a bunch of people in jail for using it, how the hell can we make money off it? That's pretty much the way things are, though I've purposely avoided the nuances here.

LM: San Diego used to be considered LA's sunnier, better-behaved sibling. You vividly depict it as a pit. What's going on with San Diego?
"No awesome surfing to be seen here."
San Diego's Pacific Beach

MP: Ha! Maybe I'm just trying to lower housing prices, right?  "San Diego is the absolute worst! Close your eyes if you see our tourism commercials on your TV! Stay in the midwest! DO NOT VISIT! Stand-up paddle boarding sucks. So does surfing. You do not want to catch a giant tuna! We do not have as many palm trees as you think! The beer is not great!"

Okay, fine. Truth be told, San Diego is exactly what you describe. More sun. More chill. More fun, for chrissakes. We've even got more beer. But like any American city, we've got our gutter punks and our hookers and our pimps and our drug addictions.

I'm writing noir, not a tourist commercial or a convention proposal. I need to find what's really out there...And pass it along to thee.

Important note: I love that I can "vividly depict" my home city as a pit. I'm sure those fine scholars who make selections for the National Book Awards are well-aware of my excessive accomplishments as a prose stylist.  I await their accolades!

LM: Do you think California will ever be able to regulate marijuana sales? There are around 200 illegal dispensaries in LA alone. I drive by many of them daily.
I like to take pictures of dispensaries that have the same names as
people I know. Grace got a kick out of this one.
Grace Marijuana Pharmacy, totally legit, located in
Santa Monica.

MP: Simple Answer–no. This is something I could grow in my house. And I could do it well. Marijuana is more than a product.  It's a cultural object that carries with it lore beyond what can be bottled by some shit-ass corporation. I remember a drifter I met while working at TGIFriday's. He worked with me about a week. Crappy busboy. But he had a tiny cedar box wrapped in a purple ribbon. He kept his weed inside with a small pipe. He talked about how it wasn't the high that drew him into weed, but the pleasure of its secrecy and subculture and "funny little conversations." Not exactly sure what he meant, but how do you regulate that?

Talking about those illegal dispensaries: The first thing that needs to happen is the federal government needs to remove its tweed sweater vest and put on a freaking t-shirt. Legalize it. It'll be like the craft beer industry. People flying to cities and taking weed tours.  It'll solve some money problems and it'll make life more simple. After that, I think cities and towns need to make sensical regulations about where and how a dispensary can operate.  The fees need to be akin to any other upstart business fees. Make sure every operation is up to health and quality standards and tax them based on revenue. I'm not an economist, but it seems like common sense is part of the answer here.

LM: What's next for Matt Philips?

I have a new noir novel slated with Fahrenheit 13, the rebels who published my noir novel Know Me from Smoke. The new one is called You Must Have a Death Wish and follows one of the characters I introduce in Countdown. No solid news on a publication date, but that's on the horizon. I've got a brutal PI novel written and I need to put on the finishing touches. That'll be a series (I think) and I have the second novel underway to about 20,000 words.

What else? A small town noir novella nearly finished for a super-secret project plus I'm banging away at a short story collection. And the day job, right? My production has slowed over the last year with some day job stuff, but I keep plugging away at my stories. Fingers crossed that people like them...

Matt Phillips is the author of numerous crime novels, including Accidental Outlaws and Know Me From Smoke.  I highly recommend Chris Rhatigan's interview of Matt Phillips at ADR Interview w/ Matt Phillips . For more Matt Phillips, check out MattPhillipsWriter.com.



As for me, I'm currently writing my sequel to Fast Bang Booze. On a related note, know of anyone in the LA area good at recovering lost data from busted hard drives? More to follow.

If you have any cool photos of dispensaries with funny names that you'd like to share, tweet em my way at LawrenceMaddox@Madxbooks. 










08 June 2017

Of Safes and Smoke

by Eve Fisher

Do you remember the South Dakota GEAR UP! scandal?  The one that got started when, early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota?  And they were all later found to be shot to death?
Quick Note:  (GEAR UP! is a federal grant program to get financial assistance to low-income students; here in SD it's primary aim was supposed to be helping Native American students.)  
Image result
SD AG Marty Jackley
Now, my regular readers may remember that South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley determined that Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and children, torched the house, and then shot himself, all because he was about to be caught for embezzling enough funds to build a $1.3 million rural home, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, etc., etc., etc., on an official combined salary (his and his wife's) from Mid Central Educational Co-Op of $130,000.  Later, it turned out that the Westerhuises had set up a number of shell organizations, and given themselves hefty salaries from them all.

Well, I'm happy to announce that the General Audit of Mid Central and GEAR UP! has finally been released and it shows:

(1) Scott and Nicole Westerhuis took nearly $8 million out of Mid Central's bank account without authorization to cover the salaries of their non-profit organizations. Supposedly most of that money was returned to Mid Central (how, when, where?), but $1.4 million was still missing at the time of the Westerhuis family's deaths.

(2) The Mid Central Board and its director, Dan Guericke, didn't have enough oversight and never addressed the risks created by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis having roles in the non-profits they set up to take the GEAR UP! grant money.

(3) Guericke didn't get approval by the board for 17 contracts and a number of payments made without contracts with the Westerhuises.

Naturally, the blame game has begun:
  • Mid Central's board is blaming the South Dakota Department of Education ("lead partner" in the GEAR UP! grant and responsible for ensuring the project was carried out in accordance to federal rules and regulations).  
  • The SD DOE says it did its job of conducting reviews of grant expenses and tightened up its controls when it began noticing issues in 2014, which is why it cancelled its contract with Mid Central right before the Westerhuis tragedy.  
  • The Mid Central board's responded that, "no amount of reasonable oversight would have detected the complex scheme of fraudulent and illegal activities conducted by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis."  (Angela Kennecke, KELO TV)  
  • NOTE:  I once put together five years of an organization's accounts from a checking account register.  You can figure out a lot if you just follow the money...
  • Also, Cory's blog Dakota Free Press has all the facts and figures that we have so far, and all the excuses piled up so far.
So, June 30, 2017, Mid Central will shut down. 12 of its 13 members have formed Core Educational Cooperative.  The same staff of Mid Central (those who are not going to trial) are now going to work for Core (at least half of them had to have conflict-of-interest waivers to work for Mid Central, and will now have to have conflict-of-interest waivers to be able to work for Core); the Mid Central Board is liquidating their assets (even though $1.4 million in tax-payer money is still owed to our long-suffering public).  Please see Cory Heidelberger's article at Dakota Free Press for a fuller experience of how deep it's getting piled.  Again...

Meanwhile, no one's come forward yet to untangle the following mysteries:
(1) Who called Nicole's cell phone in the middle of the night, right before the fire?
(2) Why did Mid Central Educational Co-op, which owned the Westerhuis cell phones, cancel them and wipe the records the next morning, before the ashes from the arson had even cooled?
(3) What did Mid Central Educational Co-op Director Dan Guericke talk about with Scott Westerhuis for an hour on the evening before the tragedy?  (Guericke told the board the two really didn't talk about much at all.)
(4) What happened to the Westerhuis safe, which trotted out of the house like a trained pig right before the house was torched?

Yes, there's going to be a trial of 3 Mid Central employees, including Director Guericke.  Maybe the questions will be answered then...  But I'm not holding my breath.  Will keep you posted.

Cannabis Plant.jpgThe other big news of the week hearkens back to last year, when the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe reversed course on opening America's first Tribal Marijuana Coffee Shop, and burned the whole crop in November.  (They had been warned that they were going to be raided by federal officials.)  AG Jackley was suspicious that they hadn't burned it all, and talked about charges.  And he did.  He charged Colorado marijuana industry consultants Eric Hagen and Jonathan Hunt for helping the tribe set up their grow room, etc.  (BTW, State AGs can’t prosecute non-Indians for crimes on reservations, but Jackley argued that his office had jurisdiction to prosecute victimless crimes committed by non-Indians.) Hunt rolled over and pled guilty but Hagen went to trial: and was acquitted by a jury. (Hagen testified that he was simply a consultant with experience in the industry who had been hired by the tribe, and apparently the jury agreed with him.) Marty Jackley was restrained, saying that he respected the jury's verdict.  (See the Argus Leader article for more details.)

Many people believe that the reason Jackley pursued this lawsuit was because he and current SD Rep. Kristi Noem (R) are going to duke it out for the South Dakota Governor's Office next year, and he's trying to get out front on the law & order issue. (Most of us think taxes and health care would be more salient...) But, as we move into yet another election year, the questions pile up:
Will GEAR UP! come up?
Will crop insurance?
Will marijuana?
Will riding horses?
Will let you know.

Meanwhile, a friend just told me that a forrmer public works director (no names were named) said that South Dakota doesn't really need federal money for infrastructure, because driving on bumpy roads isn't all that much of an inconvenience. My friend pointed out that tourists might disagree & he said tourism doesn't impact the state economy that much...

Crazy Horse Memorial - Photo by TBennert on Wikipedia
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore - Wikipedia
Badlands National Park - Wikipedia
Black Hills -Needles-31.jpg
The Needles - photo courtesy of
Doug Knuth - https://www.flickr.com/photos/dknuth/7677770944/
Wikipedia

Bear Butte - photo courtesy of
Jsoo1, as English Wikipedia image: en:Image:Bearbutte4.jpg

Main Street Sturgis South Dakota Bike Week.jpg
Sturgis motorcycle rally - Photo courtesy of
Cumulus Clouds, Wikipedia
Are our public officials TRYING to run our economy into the ground, or are they just stupid?

More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 Goodfellas.jpg