By Steve Elliott
Robert Platshorn became the longest serving marijuana prisoner in United States history, doing almost 30 years in federal prison for importing Colombian pot in the 1970s. When he got out four years ago, Platshorn -- a weed warrior through and through -- didn't take the easy way out and opt for a quiet retirement. Instead, he took up the cause of medical marijuana, launching The Silver Tour to bring the good news about cannabis to senior citizens.
Platshorn did his time, and when he got out, he started trying to make the world a better place and to help sick people. Now, even though he's been officially released from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Parole Commission, the federal government is trying to silence him, ordering travel restrictions -- which would effectively end The Silver Tour -- and forbidding him to associate with fellow Silver Tour director, federal medical marijuana patient Irvin Rosenfeld.
The Showtime movie Square Grouper featured Platshorn's story; federal agents dubbed him the Black Tuna. But today, millions of senior citizens call him the Pied Piper of medical marijuana, and often refer to him as "the secret weapon for legalization." Last year, after being released from parole, he joined with Rosenfeld to found The Silver Tour to teach seniors the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
After getting home from a book signing tour (he wrote an autobiography, Black Tuna Diaries) and an international medical cannabis conference hosted by Patients Out of Time and the University of Arizona, Platshorn got a surprise visit from a parole officer. The stranger demanded a urine sample and made it clear to Robert and his wife that Platshorn could be returned to prison if he refused.
Platshorn has a document from the U.S. Parole Commission that clearly states "By this action you are no longer under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Parole Commission."
"Despite this, a new parole officer showed up at my door, demanded I take a urine test, and ordered me not to leave the district, cancel speaking and book signings, and ordered me not to associate with Irvin Rosenfeld," Platshorn told Toke of the Town.
The officer, from the West Palm Beach Federal Parole office, claimed the visit was prompted by Platshorn's recent appearance at the High Times Medical Marijuana Cup in Los Angeles, and his participation in the medical conference.
The outcome of the urine test was already predetermined. Robert had informed his old parole officer than he was a legally registered cancer patient being successfully treated with concentrated cannabis oil.
Urine test results normally take a week, but just 48 hours after testing, Bobby was ordered to report to the parole office and was put under tight supervision pending a decision by the Parole Commission in Washington, D.C., on whether to put Platshorn -- who turns 70 this year -- back in federal prison.
"Kirsche has written a report to the U.S. Parole Commission stating that I gave a UA dirty for THC (unconfirmed) followed by several clean UAs," Platshorn told me. "More troubling, he reported that I have been traveling without permission. This is simply untrue.
"I requested that Kirsche contact my former P.O., Anthony Gagliardi, to confirm my sanctioned travel arrangements," Platshorn said. "He simply refused to do so, even after my lawyer, Mike Minardi, made the same request."
Platshorn's original parole officer, Gagliardi, is unwell and is on indefinite leave. "He oversaw my travel arrangements and is the only one who can confirm I had permission for travel anywhere in the U.S., so long as he was notified," Platshorn told me. "He never once provided written confirmation of permission for any specific trip."
Robert, who after 30 years of incarceration, left prison penniless, supplements his $600 Social Security check by traveling to promote his memoir, Black Tuna Diaries, the documentary Square Grouper and speaking at major events. Kirsche ordered him to cancel his traveling for the immediate future.
"Thirty years in prison and this guy is trying to make brownie points going for the last drop of my blood, and at the same time he wants to be the government hero who ended The Silver Tour," Platshorn told Toke of the Town. "This has already killed most of my income. Speaking and book signings at events are most of it."
In particular, Platshorn was specifically told not to appear at an upcoming High Times medical event in San Francisco. Krsche ordered Robert to immediately stop treating his cancer with cannabis oil, and he was no longer to associate with federal patient and fellow Silver Tour board member Rosenfeld.
"The two June speaking gigs Kirsche ordered me to cancel represent about 80 percent of my income for June and July," Platshorn told me. "As you know, Lynne is a semi-invalid. She is in physical therapy three days a week, needs several doctor visits (including heart, pulmonary, and cancer specialists) a week and her drug bill is no joke. By month's end I won't be able to cover he medical expenses."
This could only put the brakes on The Silver Tour; it spells financial disaster for Platshorn and his wife Lynne, who is incapacitated by severe spinal injuries. Everyone who has read Black Tuna Diaries or seen Square Grouper knows the incredible love story between Robert and Lynne that began in high school and has lasted for more than 50 years through Bobby's 30 years of prison.
Was this just the act of one over-ambitious parole officer, or the order of an overreaching bureaucrat? Would the federal government just like to put the Tuna back in the can, in order to end his advocacy for seniors?
"I've kept a lid on this stuff for the past five weeks," Platshorn said. "It was bound to come out. Wall Street Journal and others have been calling for info for weeks. I never let it out, because I want to settle things quietly and move on. I've had four uneventful productive years. Each time I am forced to cancel an appearance, it raises more questions from the press and public."
"Yesterday I was pulled in and interrogated by Kirsche and his boss, Mr. Smith," Platshorn told Toke of the Town Friday morning. "They claimed that they were being harassed by my supporters and threatened consequences. Irv [Rosenfeld] was discussed. They tried to force me to tell them if I have a state medical card from a legal state."
"Ordering me not to associate with Irv Rosenfeld, a fellow director of The Silver Tour, is totally without legal authority and a serious First Amendment rights violation," Platshorn said.
Platshorn's not going down without a fight.
"A complaint has been filed against the U.S. on Mr. Platshorn's behalf," attorney Michael C. Minardi, based in Stuart, Florida, told Toke of the Town Friday morning. "My only comment at this time, is that it is a travesty that Mr. Platshorn after spending 29 years in prison has to go through this.
"He has paid his debt to society and should be released from all further supervision," Minardi told us. "They have not only effectively ceased operations of The Silver Tour, but they have violated Mr. Platshorn's freedom of speech and right to associate by forbidding him to associate with a man the Federal Government gives Marijuana to every month."
"I've worked my ass off for three years to get to this point," Platshorn told me. "The front page of the Wall Street Journal was no accident or lucky break; neither was CNN and Newsweek. I know exactly what I'm doing.
"I'm not sitting home crying in my beer," Platshorn said. "I'm pushing to finish The Silver Tour TV show. It's almost done. The bad news: I'm about 5K short. I hired one of the top TV editor/producers. That took me over the planned budget, but the show has to be perfect. One network has tentatively approved it for airing, and two more keep asking to see the show. I need to finish it fast."
"Although my P.O. has made live Silver Tour shows impossible four now, I am working full time to complete our TV show, Should Grandma Smoke Pot?," Platshorn told me Friday morning.
"When I left the Federal Parole office yesterday, I spent the next eight hours on camera with our film crew," Platshorn said. "The show is a shocker and will change millions of minds about cannabis and hemp.
"I honestly believe it will cause a public outcry that won't stop until we see a quick end to cannabis prohibition," Bobby told me. "More than ever, I need to raise more financial support to finish this project and arrange hundreds of airings on regional stations and national networks for the fall. One national network has accepted the show and loves it. Two other networks have asked to see the show and are excited about it in principle."