There's a message folded into Armentine Duryea's The
Sun City Cannabis Club, a self-published murder mystery
suspense novel about a drunken granny who stumbles onto a
medical marijuana ring in Wrinkle Town. That message, wedged
craftily into scenes involving gun-toting, pot-smoking
oldsters with black belts in karate who take out corrupt
politicians trying to steal their stash, is this: "Old
ladies rock, dude!"
The other message is that things aren't always what they
seem. Duryea wants us to know that the old bags we spot
putzing through Sun City on their golf carts are just as
likely on their way home to bake a batch of magic brownies
as on their way to bingo. And that Duryea isn't much of a
granny herself -- she is, in fact, a couple of guys named
Jock McNeil and Paul Cilwa, who for some reason have penned
a whodunit about a bunch of pot-smoking septuagenarians out
to beat the system, man. McNeil, whose book is suddenly
getting a lot of local and national attention, sat down with
me to pass the peace pipe and discuss what all the buzz is
New Times: So you wrote this novel about an old
lady who smokes dope and ends up solving a murder mystery.
Jock McNeil: I'm not promoting it as a marijuana
book, but as an action adventure mystery.
NT: It does have the word "cannabis" in the
McNeil: It's what holds the whole story together --
the medical marijuana theme.
NT: Speaking of which, let's smoke some!
McNeil: That's terrific.
NT: I've never actually done this during an
interview before. Here, you light it.
McNeil: (Coughing.) This whole book thing has been
like a muse whispering in my ear. I thought it would be
better, since it's the story of two women, if I were to
write it under [a pseudonym]. But that whole pen name thing
flopped on me, because people started asking, "When can she
come for a book signing?" So it fell apart.
NT: Are you a senior-rights activist?
McNeil: Well, no, not specifically. I'm a vigilante
seeking truth, justice, and the American way. The hypocrisy
of the whole [marijuana] deal just kills me. Listen, don't
make me out as a big pothead. I would rather people didn't
think of me with beads around my neck and long hair, wearing
sandals in Sun City. It's a very conservative community. I
don't want to get hassled.
NT: It's not like they can ask you to leave.
McNeil: No, they can't. And the whole purpose of the
book is to stimulate conversation and debate. The more
people I piss off, the better it is.
NT: You want to stir the pot.
McNeil: Excuse the pun.
NT: Oh, God. Jesus. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to
make a pun. It must be the dope. Now, why write a book about
a pot-smoking granny?
McNeil: There I am in Sun City, and I'm seeing all
these granny types, you know? (Points to pipe.) Harsh! But
tasty. I've never bitched about a joint.
NT: Well, don't Bogart it.
McNeil: Here you go. (Points out the open door.) I
just saw a cop car go by.
NT: Oh, Lord. Here, I'll close the door.
McNeil: I think for the most part, 80 percent [of
people in Sun City] are pretty stiff -- staring at their
feet, going to church three times a week. Right now we've
got people living in Sun City who think Guy Lombardo is a
little too hip for them. They're sitting in church right now
going, "Oh, my God, am I going to go to hell?" I think Sun
City's going to get hipper.
NT: So, are you a marijuana activist, or just an
McNeil: I'm a bartender from New York! I never got
into the hippie thing like that. But I took LSD in '63.
Psychoactive drugs have always meant a lot to me. This is
good dope! Boy. Very nice!
NT: Thanks. Right now, I can't remember where I
got it from.
McNeil: It's very good. And it's made me very chatty.
NT: Good. I won't have to work as hard. Don't
tell me things you don't want me to publish, Jock McNeil.
McNeil: Well. Right, okay.
NT: Can I say you're a marijuana activist?
McNeil: Oh, absolutely. I've been -- how can I say
this delicately? I was introduced to the wonders of the hemp
plant in 1959. And I've always wondered how they can
continue to repress it.
NT: Me too! Such a drag.
McNeil: This is all about the people who own the
government. It's all about special interest groups. The
pharmaceutical industry. The gas and oil industry. It's
about gross national product. Those groups don't want it
legal, because the plant is so amazing -- you can get more
paper products from a hemp plant than from an acre of trees.
NT: Plus you can get really high if you smoke it!
McNeil: That's one reason it's illegal. But because
it's free [if you grow it], the pharmaceutical industry
can't make any money from it. You can't patent a plant. The
American Medical Association doesn't want it because if you
were sitting around smoking weed and you said, "Gee, I
haven't felt this good in years," there goes the aspirin
business. We go into this in the book. It's all about
industry and greed. Follow the money!
NT: They're big meanies!
McNeil: It's the repression of -- I've just been
thinking about this lately. It's the repression of an
NT: For days! But tell the truth: The real reason
that most activists are for legalizing medical marijuana is
so they can get their weed easier. They really don't care
about easing anyone's pain.
McNeil: Oh, sure, that's true. Now, people have told
me, "If you want to sell this book, take the emphasis off
the weed." I always say to myself, "Bullshit." I'm about
empowering the frightened little old ladies, giving them a
purpose in their life. This is a metamorphosis for me, man.
I'm 70, you know? You start kicking around your mortality.
You start thinking about how much spirituality you can
accumulate, and how much you can connect with the Oneness.
Most people are not hip to this. They're thinking in some
regimented, dogma-dominated attitude.
NT: Totally! You don't do that, though. You have
your heroine, a septuagenarian, dating a younger
McNeil: Exactly. We always had it in the back of our
mind to rattle the community. For the explosion to be most
effective -- I just thought of this! -- you want to put it
in the nucleus of the matter that's going to ignite it. Sun
City is so Guy Lombardo!
NT: Well, except I hear there are some pretty
amazing grow rooms there.
McNeil: Not that I know of. There may be. You know, a
lot of people haven't noticed this, because it's done so
beautifully, but the book is scattered with bastardized
NT: There's also quite a lot of commentary on
McNeil: And the judicial system -- we whack them
NT: Who's the congressman in your story supposed
to be? Is it Jon Kyl?
McNeil: No. He's a composite figure of corruption.
NT: One reviewer compared your book to The Da
McNeil: Yes. And that reviewer has written an
interesting book -- she's one of those what-do-you-call-thems.
NT: Wig salesperson?
McNeil: No. She's an abductee. She was, you know,
she's been abducted [by a UFO]. In fact, Paul Cilwa, who
co-wrote this book with me, he's been abducted.
McNeil: Something to consider! I just met someone
last Tuesday and she's from West Virginia and she works at
Wal-Mart. And she's been abducted!
NT: You're scaring me.
McNeil: She was, uh . . . she was . . . now, where
was I going with that thought?
NT: We were talking about marijuana. But pot
seems so retro these days. I mean, aren't most kids smoking
McNeil: No. Well, some of them, in whatever crappy
neighborhood they live in. But that's about money changing
hands in the ghetto. A rich kid in Scarsdale might try it
once or twice. But pot is still big with kids, but they're
trying to repress it. I heard on the radio -- I heard that .
. . wait. Where was I going with that?
NT: I don't remember what we were talking about.
McNeil: This is really good pot.