Former Marines James King and Keiko Arroyo now battle California’s cannabis bandits
Before he can hoist a suitcase filled with $385,000 from the back of an unmarked Chevy Suburban in Silver Lake, Keiko Arroyo first has to set aside an AR-15 rifle draped over his left leg, step out from the passenger seat, and avoid an electric bike perched alongside Sunset Boulevard. While his partner, James King, keeps a watchful eye, Arroyo circles to the back of the vehicle and pulls out an inconspicuous suitcase, its grayish color and roller wheels belying the stacks of cannabis cash inside.
The two barrel-chested former Marines stick out among the dog walkers and coffee drinkers, but they have found a niche crisscrossing California, providing armed transport for weed businesses. It’s a burgeoning security industry that is flourishing since marijuana legalization, and one that prizes the warfare skills that a generation of soldiers honed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as marijuana sales step out of the shadows, it is unclear if the former soldiers plying their trade in cannabis will have a role for much longer.
California’s streets are flooded with weed products and cash, but national banks and major security companies won’t touch the stuff. Holding pot revenue could run them afoul of federal laws, so smaller security firms, secret vaults, and a contingent of battle-hardened veterans have stepped into the gap.
Arroyo and King first worked together at a high-end jewelry store 15 years ago and later helped secure a Miami neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. For them the cannabis boom is an unexpected step in their quest for a career unbound by 9-to-5 gigs. “We’re not cubicle people,” says Arroyo, a former marksmanship instructor.
King, 51, left the military in 1993 when the Marines tried to relegate him to a desk job after an injury. A self-described adrenaline junkie, he went on to work for defense contractors like Blackwater until 2014. He describes driving convoys through mountain roads in Afghanistan and training border police, a far cry from chauffeuring weed revenue in the carpool lane. “The stress level isn’t as high,” says King, but the techniques are similar. “Though I’m not concerned about someone popping over that wall with an RPG.”
Published: October 08, 2019
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News