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Ex-Philly marijuana smuggler now a pot pitchman for elderly

Bobby Platshorn did 30 years in jail. At 70, he has a new mission

Robert Platshorn
Robert PlatshornRead more

Goldstein smoked his first joint in 1994 and has been working to legalize marijuana ever since. He serves on the Board of Directors at PhillyNORML has been covering cannabis news for over a decade.

Jon Stewart's Daily Show recently aired a report on senior citizens smoking marijuana. If you caught it, you saw an infamous Philadelphia native: Robert Platshorn.

Bobby, who grew up at Seventh and South Streets, served the longest prison sentence for a nonviolent marijuana offense in U.S. history. He spent nearly 30 years in a federal lockup for smuggling pot in the 1970s.

Square Grouper,  a 2011 documentary, tells the story of Bobby's adventures with planes, boats and bales of pot in Florida, his eventual arrest and imprisonment.

I first met Bobby at the national NORML conference in Berkeley in 2008. He had just been released from prison and was just taking in the modern cannabis culture of the Bay Area like a peaceful visitor to a new planet. When we realized our Philly connection we forged a wonderful friendship. He sat down In 2009, he sat down with me for a radio interview about his autobiography Black Tuna Diaries: The Story of America's Most Notorious Marijuana Smuggler LISTEN HERE 

Bobby is a salesman and a dealmaker. He cut his teeth as a pitchman on the Atlantic City boardwalk alongside Billy Mays selling a variety of wares. Pot was a natural step and an easy sell in the 70's — but it required a lot of legwork. Bobby certainly used aggressive haggling and logistics but he was never accused of using violence to find and then transport huge bails of weed from South America.

In the end, Platshorn endured something almost unthinkable. Convicted of importing hundreds of tons of marijuana, he was sentenced to three decades in a cell.

He emerged from prison with a peaceful self-discipline and unbroken compassion. The best part of Bobby's life is happening now. He reconnected with his wife and remarried her on the beach (they had divorced out of pragmatism). His son, just 4-years old when Bobby was locked away, helped to rebuild their lives.

It didn't take long for Bobby to reinvent himself as an advocate for marijuana law reform.

The Daily Show took notice of his project "The Silver Tour," a program that works to educate seniors about the benefits of cannabis. His new endeavour, an infomercial called "Should Grandma Smoke Pot?" combines his pitchman roots with cannabis politics.

Bobby's approach is having a measurable impact. Florida St. Rep. Jeff Clemens was moved to introduce a resolution to legalize medical marijuana after hearing Bobby speak.

But the federal government is keeping Bobby on a tight leash. He had been traveling to promote his book and attend film screenings, now the feds say he cannot travel freely.

Platshorn spoke with me via phone this week:

"I was making bout 80 percent of my living selling books and speaking at cannabis reform events," he said. "I only get my social security. All that work was put back into the Silver Tour."

For about three years Bobby had an amicable parole officer. Then he received a certificate stating that he was released from parole. But on the heels of a trip to a medical marijuana conference in Arizona a new parole officer called him on the phone.

"He told me that I have to fulfill eight years of special probation," said Platshorn.

He is now restricted to an area of South Florida around his West Palm Beach home.

"I'm 70 years old. Will I have another free day in life? I don't know?," Bobby reflected, "I thought I had paid my dues."

A legal team fighting on Platshorn's behalf issued this statement in October:

"(Platshorn) is engaged in a robust debate over laws that have divided America for decades. He is not asking for people to engage in criminal conduct by using marijuana. He is asking legislators to revise our system of justice so using it in the future will not be illegal."

As always, Bobby's entrepreneurial spirit is pressing forward, he has booked cable time for his infomercial. His outlook remains positive while he looks on at marijuana legalization going from a debate to a reality this week.

"Washington and Colorado legalization that is my 'get-back' because seniors supported those ballots," said Bobby, "Now it's time to run 'Should Grandma Smoke Pot?' in Florida and up in the Washington DC area."

He quickly added, "I would really like to be up in Philly for screenings."

 Contact Chris Goldstein at