Pubdate: Sat, 10 May 2014
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Dan Sweeney
Page: 1A


Robert Platshorn, perhaps more than anyone else, could tell you that 
dealing in marijuana doesn't pay. But the man who served more time in 
federal prison than any other first-time nonviolent marijuana 
offender in history, won't tell you that.

Instead, he wants you to get in the business. Legally, of course.

Anticipating the passing of Amendment 2, which would legalize medical 
marijuana in Florida, Platshorn has put together a Meet the Experts 
Medical Marijuana Conference, which takes place in Hollywood on May17.

The conference will cover everything from opening a dispensary, to 
the likely state regulations entrepreneurs will face, to taxes and 
accounting to actually growing weed.

After serving 29 years in prison, Platshorn came out into the world 
to discover he was seen as something of a martyr by the 
pro-legalization community. This led to speaking engagements around 
the country - until a new parole officer limited his travel - and 
that experience gave him contacts that made him the perfect frontman 
for this operation.

Much of Platshorn's success can be attributed to his notoriety. 
First, his past in prison made him sympathetic to pro-legalization 
activists. And once he was out, he knew he wanted to do something - 
not for health but for justice. "I wanted to make sure that what 
happened to me could never, ever happen to anyone else," said 
Platshorn, who lives in West Palm Beach. "I wanted to do something, 
but I wasn't sure what."

Although Amendment 2 is on the ballot this November, Platshorn and 
other entrepreneurial souls have good reason to set up training 
conferences and schools in anticipation of its passing. According to 
a new Quinnipiac poll, 88 percent of Florida voters support the amendment.

Platshorn takes some credit for that high number. "I was out in 
California working for the decriminalization bill in 2010, and we 
lost by just 7 percentage points," Platshorn said. "And when I took a 
look at the exit polling, it was because of seniors. Sixty-six 
percent of seniors voted against it, and our generation invented 
marijuana as we know it today."

With that in mind, Platshorn, a director of the Florida chapter of 
the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, got the 
group to back his Silver Tour, a roving pro-medical marijuana 
demonstration that hit synagogues and retirement communities across the state.

"A lot of these folks had heard that marijuana is only good for 
cancer and HIV," Platshorn said. "But its useful for a whole range of 
problems. ... Pain relief, sleep aid, increasing appetite, a slightly 
euphoric feeling - and that's good for your health, you know - I 
mean, marijuana fights so many of the problems that come with old age."

Based on anecdotal evidence, Platshorn's pitch worked. "I'd say 95 
percent of the people came out of the Silver Tour saying they wanted 
to try it," Platshorn says. Of course, the old smuggler's presence 
didn't hurt. Before going into drug trafficking, Platshorn had been a 
pitchman by trade.

Many of the contacts Platshorn made during his tour will now appear 
at nextweek's conference.

"I got the idea [for the conference] because there was this group 
going around charging $300 and telling people they could take this 
course and be ready to start a dispensary," Platshorn said. "It was 
an okie-dokie conference. What we're doing is more of a bad-news 
conference - here's all the regulations you're going to have to know, 
here's all the hoops you'll have to jump through. I've heard a lot of 
complaints about those other guys, but no one complained about our last one."

That last conference, held in West Palm Beach on March 29, boasted 
100 attendees, and Platshorn has room for twice that many next 
weekend, with about half the tickets already gone.

Since then, medical marijuana schools have opened in Miami, Delray 
Beach, and other metropolitan areas around the state, all betting on 
the passage of Amendment 2.

Although the Legislature recently passed a bill allowing a 
non-euphoric form of marijuana called Charlotte's Web, that law 
limits distribution to just a few nursery owners who have decades of 
experience cultivating plants in Florida.

While the Amendment 2 initiative drew little opposition when itwas 
introduced, the Florida Sheriff's Association two weeks ago launched 
Don't Let Florida Go To Pot to oppose it.

"This is not about marijuana for the medically ill," said Polk County 
Sheriff Grady Judd, the group's president. "Amendment 2 is about 
legalizing marijuana in the state of Florida."

At least one of the speakers at Platshorn's convention disagrees. 
Retired Maryland State Police Major Neill Franklin serves as 
executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "Those 
brave medical practitioners who have done the research in the face of 
federal law have discovered that there is medicinal benefit," Franklin said.

If Amendment 2 passes, properly licensed dispensaries won't go the 
way of Platshorn and his partners, dubbed the Black Tuna Gang by the 
task force that investigated it.

Prosecutors accused Platshorn and his co-conspirators of smuggling 
500 tons of Santa Marta Gold into the United States. The real number 
was more like 50, according to Platshorn and an FBI agent involved in the case.

As a prosecutor in the case told the website The Daily Beast in 2012, 
"they seemed more like the Keystone Kops than slick masterminds."

Platshorn's characterization is somewhat more favorable. "We were 
just fishing buddies that smuggled a little pot."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom