Financial ruin threatens longtime stoner and historian-turned-journalist Ed Rosenberg. He and his wife, Julie, victims of newspapers’ decline, have just been fired from the San Francisco Foghorn.
Scrambling for work, Ed lands a gig researching the hippie Haight-Ashbury for a museum exhibit sponsored by a tech billionaire whose birth mother was a small-time marijuana dealer shot to death in Golden Gate Park in 1968, a killing never solved. Meanwhile, Julie is hired as media liaison for mayoral candidate Dave Kirsch, a former pot dealer and author of best-selling guides to growing weed. Then Kirsch is murdered in Golden Gate Park. His death costs Julie her job and returns the couple to the brink of financial disaster.
Ed’s research about the hippie Haight-Ashbury’s tie-dyed past vividly illuminates that era. The derivation of “psychedelic”? How the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane got their names? All that and more in Killer Weed. Ed’s investigation also introduces him to a rogue’s gallery of characters—a hairdresser, florist, laundromat operator, and real estate mogul— who, he realizes, may have been involved in the ex-dealer’s murder. Then someone starts shooting at him.
The pages turn quickly and San Francisco—both then and now— comes alive. Killer Weed features remarkably true-to-life characters, and a compelling, nuanced portrait of a marriage under duress. Their careers upended, Ed and Julie feel anxious and stressed—and both use drugs to cope. He smokes more weed, which she doesn’t like, and she drinks more alcohol, which he can’t stand. Will the marriage survive?
While Killer Weed is a mystery, it’s more than a standard whodunit. It’s the only book that recounts the real forty-year history of marijuana dealing in America—importation from Mexico, then rendezvous with Colombian freighters on the high seas, followed by outdoor cultivation in national forests, to indoor growing under solar-powered lights. Castleman’s portrait of the business side of weed is so detailed and authoritative, you’ll wonder what this author has actually been doing the past four decades.
Killer Weed is a fast-paced, ingeniously plotted novel with characters so real you’ll want to turn on, tune in, and drop everything to reach the surprising, deeply satisfying conclusion.
Murder is central to each of Michael Castleman’s Ed Rosenberg novels, but in addition, each book also deals with San Francisco history—everything from the events of 1906 to the bitter dock strike of 1934. In Killer Weed, the focus is the hippie era and the marijuana/cannabis industry, specifically, dope dealing from 1965 to the present day.
Castleman did not live in San Francisco during the late 1960s. He was finishing high school in New York. But he embraced hippie culture, and from 1968 to ’75, lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a college town that had a strong hippie vibe, many dealers, and marijuana activism that, in 1973, passed the nation’s first decriminalization law—a $5 fine for possession. Castleman arrived in San Francisco in 1975, and lived in the Haight-Ashbury for several years, inhaling its culture—in more ways than one. In addition, he’s read extensively about that era, but none of the books described the 40-year sweep of the marijuana business. He wanted to correct that.
In addition, Castleman is a strong supporter of cannabis legalization. He’s a member of NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s totally insane,” he says, “that alcohol and tobacco are legal, yet annually kill 85,000 and 450,000 Americans respectively, while weed is illegal but kills few, if any. It’s ridiculous that enforcement of pointless prohibition laws costs billions of tax dollars, while legalization would generate billions in tax revenue, save a fortune in prison costs, and reduce the violence associated with drug trafficking. Finally, with appropriate diagnosis and dose control, cannabis is less likely to harm than heal.”
Michael Castleman was named for a deceased relative, a Jewish custom. Castleman has adapted it to his novels, naming characters after people he’s known who have passed away. “My characters’ personalities are not inspired by their namesakes, but their physical descriptions are.”
Chief among Castleman’s memorials is his protagonist, Ed Rosenberg. “I met Eddie in seventh grade and we remained friends until he died—way before his time—of an undiagnosed heart defect in 1987 at age 37. I’m still in touch with his parents, now frail and living in Florida.”
Another old friend memorialized in the book is Carol Covington. In the book, she’s a former editor of the San Francisco Oracle, who becomes a teacher and directs a gospel choir. “I met Carol when we were twelve. She was one of the warmest people I’ve ever known. She died in 2010 at age 60.
Other memorial names include: Castleman’s father-in-law Gene Simons, and Ken Kelly, Sandra Selden, Pat Lucas, Wallace Turner, Joe Bogen (real name Ellenbogen), Dave Kirsch (Kirschberg).
“Naming character has always been difficult for me,” Castleman says. “Memorializing solves that problem while honoring the memories of people I’ve known.”
Michael Castleman has been a cannabis consumer since 1967 when a high-school friend first turned him on. During the past 45 years, he has read extensively about the business, but more importantly, over the years, he has coaxed many of his dealers to reveal how they’ve obtained their weed and run their businesses.
“It never ceased to amaze me how forthcoming most dealers are,” he says. “You’d think they’d keep quiet—and some won’t say a word—but most have been only too happy to discuss everything from their supply chains (minus names) to their stories for the taxman.”
Castleman has purchased cannabis from dealers who imported from Mexico, Panama, and Jamaica, who offloaded from Colombian freighters on the high seas, and who have grown it outdoors and more recently indoors. Currently, Castleman has a California medical marijuana card and buys from a store in San Francisco that’s vertically integrated. The owners grow it indoors at various locations around the Bay Area and sell mostly what they grow, obtaining the rest from other local growers.
Few of Castleman’s dealers have had front businesses through which they’ve laundered illegal income, but among those with fronts, businesses have included: a clothing store, consulting firm, auto repair shop, and rental real estate.
All the dealers in Killer Weed are fictional, but one, Paul Nightingale, is based on a friend Castleman met in the late 1970s. In the book, Nightingale starts with smuggling a few pounds at a time from Mexico and winds up offloading tons from Colombian freighters off the coast of Northern California until he’s arrested by the DEA. Nightingale has no front and spends a decade in federal prison for drug crimes and tax evasion.
The model for Nightingale started out driving a few pounds from Mexico to the Northeast. Eventually, he bought hundreds of pounds at a time from Colombian freighters off the coast of Maine. He laundered his drug money through a portfolio of real estate investments, but eventually got caught and spent several years in federal prison. In addition, under the RICO law—racketeer-influenced corrupt organizations—the IRS seized his buildings. After his release, he returned to real estate. Castleman lost touch and does not know if he returned to dealing.
“Any business is interesting,” Castleman says, “but illegal businesses are fascinating because the owners must be especially shrewd and creative.”
The material about marijuana causing about as much driving impairment as antidepressants comes from “Marijuana and Actual Driving Performance,” published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The material about marijuana causing substantially less risk of dependence than other recreational drugs comes from “Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings,” published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The material about marijuana posing less lung cancer risk than tobacco comes from the medical literature:
Aldington, S. et al. “Cannabis Use and Risk of Lung Cancer: A Case-Control Study,” European Respiratory Journal (2008) 31:280.
Berthiller, J. et al. “Cannabis Smoking and Risk of Lung Cancer in Men: A Pooled Analysis of Three Studies in Magreb, Tunisia,” Journal of Thoracic Oncology (2008) 3:1398.
Chen, A.L. et al. “Hypothesizing That Marijuana Smokers Are At a Significantly Lower Risk of Carcinogenicity Relative to Tobacco-Non-Marijuana Smokers: Evidence Based on a Statistical Re-Evaluation of Current Literature,” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs (2008) 40:263.
Hashibe, M. et al. “Marijuana Use and the Risk of Lung and Upper Aerodigestive Tract Cancers: Results of a Population-Based Case-Control Study,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention (2006) 15:1829.
Hashibe, M. et al. “Epidemiologic Review of Marijuana Use and Cancer Risk,” Alcohol (2005) 35:265.
Mehra, R. “The Association Between Marijuana Smoking and Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review,” Archives of Internal Medicine (2006)166:1359.
Melamede, R. “Cannabis and Tobacco Smoke Are Not Equally Carcinogenic,” Harm Reduction Journal (2005) 2:21.
Quoix, E. “Novel Epidemiology in Lung Cancer: Nonsmokers, Women, and Cannabis,” Revue de Maladies Respiratoires (French) (2007) 24(8 part 2):6S10.
Tashkin, D.P. “Smoked Marijuana as a Cause of Lung Injury,” Archives of Chest Diseases (Monaldi) (2005) 63:93.
Michael Castleman is an award-winning American journalist and novelist, based in San Francisco. He has published 13 nonfiction books and more than 2,500 magazine and Web articles. His nonfiction titles have more than 2.5 million copies in print. As a novelist, he has written four murder mysteries set in San Francisco that deal, in part, with the city’s rich history.
Most of his books are detailed on his personal website.
While producing best-selling consumer health books and hundreds of articles on health and sexuality, Castleman has cultivated a separate following as a modern mystery writer whose four critically acclaimed Ed Rosenberg tales feature fast action, intricate plots, an amateur sleuth, his wife and family, and a rogue’s gallery of vivid characters.
Castleman has written about sexuality and sex research for 40 years. He has answered more than 10,000 sex questions for Playboy, other magazines, PsychologyToday.com, WebMD, and other websites. His latest sexuality book is Great Sex: The Man’s Guide to Whole-Body Sensuality (Rodale, 2008), nominated as Best Sexuality Book of the Year by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.
In recent years, Castleman, now in his sixties, has focused on older adult sexuality, a subject long under-researched and under-reported. In spring of 2010, he launched GreatSexGuidance, where he answers sex advice questions for free and sells more than 100 articles about sex for $.99 to $19.95 each, or $29.95 for the complete ebook.
Leading Health Journalist
Library Journal has called Castleman “one of the nation’s top health writers.” In addition to sexuality, he specializes in optimal health, mainstream medicine, alternative therapies, nutrition, and fitness. His articles have appeared in dozens of magazines, newspapers, and websites, among them: the New York Times, Smithsonian, Psychology Today, Readers Digest, Playboy, Health, Redbook, Self, Family Circle, Natural Health, and Men’s Health. He has been nominated twice for National Magazine Awards.
Castleman’s 13 books include: Building Bone Vitality (McGraw-Hill, 2009), Great Sex (Rodale, 2008), There’s Still a Person in There (about Alzheimer’s disease, co-author with Matthew Naythons, M.D., and Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, Ph.D., Putnam, 2000), Nature’s Cures (Rodale, 1996), Before You Call the Doctor (co-author with Anne Simons, M.D. and Bobbie Hasselbring, Ballantine, 1992), and The Healing Herbs (Rodale, 3rd edition, 2010 – 1,000,000 in print). His books have be selections of The Book of the Month Club and other book clubs. Nature’s Cures was nominated as a Best Health Book of the Year by the American Library Association.
Castleman is married with two grown children. He enjoys skiing, scuba diving, and American roots music, notably JazzFest in New Orleans.