How ‘Smoke’ Author Meili Cady Got Mixed Up With The Pot Princess Of Beverly Hills
When 19-year-old Meili Cady moved to Los Angeles from her small hometown of Bremerton, Washington, she obviously had no clue she’d wind up writing a memoir called Smoke: How a Small-Town Girl Accidentally Wound Up Smuggling 7,000 Pounds of Marijuana With the Pot Princess of Beverly Hills . She just came to L.A. for the same reason hundreds of thousands before her had come: to become an actress.
Lonely, young, and naïve is a pretty dangerous trifecta of character traits in a city like Los Angeles. There are plenty of charlatans just waiting to take advantage of eager new transplants, especially in the entertainment world. Quickly after settling into her new city, Cady hooked up with Lisette Lee, a supposed Samsung heiress who made some pretty outrageous claims — like that she was classmates with Paris Hilton and that she was a huge pop star in Korea. Like the Bling Ring kids, Lisette was all about designer labels and luxury. She drove Bentleys, flew around on private jets, and gave her BFF Cady a huge diamond ring, as a symbol of their friendship.
Smoke details Cady's friendship with Lee, who turned out to be a manipulative, narcissistic sociopath — and that’s putting it mildly. Broke and desperate to please her friend, Cady got involved in Lee’s pot dealing operation smuggling suitcases of drugs from L.A. to Ohio, which did not end well for either of them. They were eventually arrested, and Cady was sentenced to 30 days in custody followed by a year of home confinement and three years probation. Lee got six years in prison.
Even if you’ve heard about Cady’s story on the news or read the Rolling Stone article about Lee (which Lee responded to), Cady’s book reads like a page-turner. It’s easy to say, “I would never wind up flying to Ohio on private jets with suitcases full of marijuana,” but if you’re lonely and vulnerable and mixed up with a “friend” like Lisette Lee, who knows what you’d do.
Not long after her arrest, Cady started writing a blog called House Arrest Girl, which caught the attention of a producer and led to her writing the book. Paramount has optioned her story, and Smoke, published by Dey Street Books, hits shelves on March 24.
I talked to Cady about what it was like revisiting her time with Lisette, why she feels lucky that they got arrested, and the good, the bad, and the ugly about Los Angeles.
BUSTLE: You write about the hold that Lisette had over you and about the fact that you were desperate for work. Looking back, what do you think motivated you more — Lisette’s approval or the fact that you were broke?
MEILI CADY: It was much more about the relationship than the money. The money was huge, but I wasn’t expecting an abundance of money from this; I was just looking to make ends meet. That rendered me susceptible, so saying yes to the job was possibly motivated more by money, but staying in the job was motivated more by my relationship with her, which was not a healthy one.
You were afraid the friendship would end?
Fairly early on when I showed any signs of resistance to the job she basically said, "If you don’t work for me I’m never going to see you again." That was scary for me. Over the course of four years I looked at her as a rock in my life in L.A., and we had what I thought was a deeply felt bond. I couldn’t imagine not having her in my life, and the way she presented it was compelling, and it wasn’t particularly kind.
Did you first think about writing a book as your were blogging about the experience?
I had one chapter written about a year before that actually, that I just kind of sat on. I didn’t know how to write a book or get someone to publish it. That ended up coming organically out of nowhere through the blog. About three months into the blog a TV producer who I waited [Cady worked as a server after her arrest] on saw it and the head of TV at Steve Carell’s production company wanted to turn it into a sitcom, and I got a literary agent for that purpose.
I never imagined that a series of not-so-great decisions could end up with such severe consequences.
It must have been hard, writing the book and reliving all those details again. Was it a tough process for you? Did you have any hesitation going into it?
Writing it was cathartic but it also brought up every negative feeling that I had. One of those feelings was that constant state of heightened anxiety. That would come back in waves and I was nervous about writing the book in the beginning, but any hesitation I had was overpowered by the strong urge to purge myself of all these secrets that had eaten away at me. I’m not someone who keeps a lot of secrets, and these were layers of lies to cover secrets. It took a lot out of me, and it was kind of like tracing things back to the roots. It was very healing.
Has Lisette commented on the book yet?
No, but I’m sure she will. I’m sure she’ll have a lot to say. I think she’s lying in the bed that she’s made and anything that I did was certainly not out of revenge. I didn’t make it sound any worse. There were some things I left out, which would have painted an even uglier picture. I don’t expect her to understand it. We’re very different people.
The line between "us" and "them" as far as having a criminal record and being incarcerated is so much smaller than people realize.
You didn’t write about your acting career at all once the story became more about those trips to Ohio. Did you stop pursuing it at that time?
I wasn’t actively pursuing it. There wasn’t anything I was doing that would attract any opportunities. Acting is not something that just comes to you — you really have to get out there and work for it. There’s a lot of struggle usually.
Speaking of acting, did your first acting teacher really say thinks like, "I want to hear your ovaries clanging together!"?
I swear to God that’s a direct quote.
That’s pretty amazing. After this experience, and once you left prison, did you see Los Angeles in a different light than you had when you first met Lisette?
I did. Los Angeles is a great city for so many reasons, but it’s also a very dangerous city. It really will take from you whatever you’re willing to give. However, there’s a lot of opportunity. It’s a great city for people who know what they want and people who are really self-motivated. There are great people here and there are really horrible people too. That’s true of anywhere, but I think in L.A. the bad is very readily available, especially in the entertainment industry. When someone moves to Los Angeles and they’re naïve and don’t have a frame of reference for things it can be pretty dangerous.
You mentioned that writing the book was cathartic, so what do you hope people get from reading it?
How to do cocaine.
Perfect. It’s a primer about how to do cocaine.
My mom said, "Well if anyone wants to know how to do cocaine I guess they know now, huh?" I think that if I had read about this kind of experience before I’d had it, I would like to think it would have shaken me awake. The line between "us" and "them" as far as having a criminal record and being incarcerated is so much smaller than people realize. It’s such a slippery slope.
I’m sure you never imagined you’d move to L.A. only to get arrested by DEA agents in Ohio.
I never imagined that a series of not-so-great decisions could end up with such severe consequences. By the time I figured out what I was a part of I’d already made so many bad decisions that I sealed my own fate. I was very lucky we were arrested because I don’t know if I’d be standing here today if we hadn’t been.
Would you ever in a million years go back to Ohio after all this?
Maybe for a book signing. And I want to give that guy who was such a jerk to me when I was being interrogated a piece of my mind.