So it's go-time for Sunshine State supporters of medicinal smoking. For the first time, Floridians are going to polling places weighing a choice on the legalization of marijuana. By this time next week, Florida's weedscape could look drastically different -- or unfortunately the same. With such a possible historical swing in the offing, we decided to touch base with one of Florida's biggest proponents of marijuana reform, a guy who's truly given his life to the cause: Robert Platshorn. But even Bobby Tuna himself is iffy on the amendment's chances.
"At this point, I think it's 51 percent we will and 49 percent we won't pass Amendment 2," Platshorn told New Times on Monday afternoon. "I'm concerned because of the way the polls have yo-yoed up and down. And the fact that the no campaign was able to run what was virtually a Reefer Madness campaign."
Platshorn, you might remember, was one of the principal guys behind the Black Tuna Gang, the major importers of Colombian pot in the 1970s. In 1979, he was arrested and handed a jail sentence that would eventually stretch to 2008 -- the longest jail sentence for pot smuggling in U.S. history. Since his release, Platshorn has been an active speaker and advocate for medical marijuana.
For the past four years, Platshorn has been pitching medical marijuana to senior citizens with his Silver Tour, an informational speaking series aimed at dispelling misconceptions. This is the key demographic in the medical marijuana passage in Florida, he argues; Platshorn feels the campaign funded by lawyer John Morgan and organized by United for Care's Ben Pollara missed an opportunity.
"Morgan's campaign was not directed in the right place," Platshorn says. "It should have gone to seniors. Seniors are going to make or break this. Morgan's theory was that if you bring out the youth vote, Charlie Crist will get elected and Amendment 2 will pass. Historically, it's really only seniors who come out in off election years. And this is a state with thousands and thousands of senior communities, all of which have polling places right in the community."
The tour was born after Platshorn watched Prop 19, a bid for total legalization, defeated in 2010 in California. He studied the exit polls. "Nobody was voting except seniors and Latinos," he says. "It was only seniors who defeated it."
Platshorn's Silver Tour spoke directly to the senior set; despite giving thousands of lectures, most of Platshorn's work was limited to South Florida -- until last month, he was leashed by parole. Instead, he worked to get his "Should Grandma Smoke Pot" infomercial on television, as well as a series of radio ads that ran in markets all over the state, including in Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, Naples, Fort Myers, and Melbourne.
"Radio stations were calling me, asking me to make buys," he explains. "That's a big turnaround from a year ago. The conversation is much more comfortable."
Still, the overall pro-Amendment 2 campaign struggled to push against the tidal wave of misinformation floated by opponents in their own ad campaigns, Reefer Madness bullshit that United for Care did little to correct, Platshorn says. "They did nothing to combat the negative spin."
Platshorn's own activism will storm on, whether the amendment passes or not. "This is the state that's most important to me; this is my home. I was out with petitions a week after getting out of the halfway house. I've been working my butt off in this state." Today, Platshorn plans on being out at polling places with signs.
Still, the activist is convinced the amendment's dead-even chances as we pull into the last leg have to do with faulty strategy. "[United for Care] did a hell of a job getting this on the ballot and organizing people to get out the vote," he says. "I give them a lot of credit. But when it comes to selling an idea, I know a whole lot more than they do. I've been a pitchman since I was 17 years old."
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