Mayhem, Murder and Marijuana: The Los Angeles Marijuana War by Arik Kaplan

Reviewed by Ray Palen

Mayhem, Murder and MarijuanaThe back cover of this novel tells a story almost as chilling as the one found between the covers. The author — Arik Kaplan is a pseudonym to maintain his true identity— literally lived this story. In 2011, immediately following the relaxing of laws in the State of California allowing medicinal marijuana dispensaries to open, he began aggressively purchasing legal medical marijuana locations in Los Angeles county.

The problem with things that sound too good to be true is that they usually are — or, at the very least, they come at a big price. ‘Kaplan’ found out that his involvement in this new industry was the literal equivalent of drawing a target on his own back. If he went through even a smidgen of what the characters in his novel experience it is indeed a wonder he lived to tell this tale.

MAYHEM, MURDER AND MARIJUANA: The Los Angeles Marijuana War makes “Boyz In the Hood” look like an episode of “Sanford and Son”. The fact that our humble author has received death threats at the mere thought of revealing what is contained in this book speaks to his and the stories credibility.

There are several key players in this novel and their paths all cross at different points. The first that we are introduced to is Bing (many street names in this novel). Bing is short for Pacifico Bing de Asis, a Filipino kid who was embarrassed of his hard-working parents and always envied his wealthier schoolmates. His best friend was ‘M’ — short for the half-Irish, half-Mexican Morrison Guzman. His mother named him after Jim Morrison. As far as I’m concerned, any book that references Jim Morrison is alright by me!

Bing and M are working hard at leveraging their years of illegal drug-selling, some at the interstate level, into the newly legitimized medical marijuana game. The problem is they live fast and free and spend money as fast as they make it. To get into the legalized game they need a lot of money down and support from a lender in order to purchase the buildings where the marijuana dispensaries would be located.

This leads them to the other star of this story — Adam Copland. He is a little older then these boys and has become a bit of an entrepreneur in their neighborhood. Mind you, he’s just as dirty but has settled down with a woman (who later on in the novel admits she’s expecting) and has been toeing the line of legitimacy for enough years that he is not only an interested party in entering the medical marijuana game but also wants to be Bing and M’s benefactor.

All the while, Kaplan gives us glimpses of the completely illegal/gang side of the marijuana game equation. We are introduced to Jamal who heads up the BDS — Black Death Squad. They remain in the background just long enough to be overlooked. It is at that point that they will strike — and let the bodies fall where they may. Meanwhile, Adam Copland is enjoying life as a real estate holder with his own legitimate “MMJ” dispensaries beginning to thrive. He shrewdly enters into a deal with Bing and M that will essentially make him their landlord — while he takes his own percentage off the top of their profits to boot.

Unfortunately for Bing and M, they failed to read the fine print of their contract with Copland, and this means inevitably the locations, customers and all the profits made by Bing and M will become Copland’s. The bad blood between Bing and Copland is at an all new level and when the dust settles, there won’t be many left standing. It is here where the novel becomes a true crime drama that pulls no punches. I was especially horrified by the scene where one of these characters is devoured by a Chow (a rare dog breed) as he proceeds to eat the mans face and crush his larynx — all from the inside of a locked automobile.

MAYHEM, MURDER AND MARIJUANA is as hard-hitting a true crime novelization as any I have read in recent years. It begs for a big screen treatment and it would be nice for Mr. Kaplan, who somehow survived this madness, to make some truly legitimate money off of that prospect. A taut and chilling read but also a cautionary tale about getting involved in something that seems to promise more than it can ever deliver.

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