Broward News

Pot Activist Robert Platshorn: Feds Tightening Screws

Not content with locking up Palm Beach medical marijuana activist Robert Platshorn for almost 30 years, the federal government has now decided to rob him of his constitutional rights, restricting his ability to travel and enjoy free speech and assembly. They don't like him advocating drug law reform. 

A nice Jewish boy from South Philly, the now 70-year-old Platshorn has had several careers: as an Atlantic City pitchman hawking kitchen gadgets on the boardwalk, as a UK ex-pat running a chain of European speed-reading schools, and as a major league smuggler whose Black Tuna gang ran weed by the ton into the U.S. from Colombia in the late '70s. He regrets that last choice.

Platshorn did his time. In fact he's done more time for trafficking weed than any other American citizen in the history of the republic--28 years in 11 different prisons. It cost him his marriage and his finances, though it's the impact on his family that hurt most. "It's the effect it has on the people you love," he said. "I'm sure it killed my mother and father."  

Platshorn felt then and feels now that the root cause of his incarceration--the criminalization of weed--is stupid, if not corrupt. "It's a plant with endless uses, not just medical uses," he said. He also feels its recreational use is without harm.

Released from prison in 2008, Platshorn worked on his memoirs and took up his legalization campaign--most famously, the "Silver Tour," touting the benefits of marijuana to seniors. "Those are the people who get out and vote," Platshorn told us. "Especially here in Florida."

Platshorn's crusade caught fire, bringing him national attention. But it also drew the attention of the feds, and last spring his new parole officer, Scott Kirsche, cracked down. With the approval of the feds' chief South Florida probation officer, Reginald Michael, Platshorn was shut down like a Chinese dissident. 

In May, at Platshorn's West Palm Beach home, Kirsche grilled Platshorn about his trips the previous month to Colorado and Arizona, where Platshorn had attended a medical marijuana convention and signed copies of his book, the Black Tuna Diaries. Platshorn peed in a cup and flunked.

Platshorn says the pee reflected his use of food products and a skin cancer treatment containing hemp oil. He says the unauthorized travel reflected confusion over parole office instructions (the parole office has had to correct and backdate orders in Platshorn's case) and his first parole officer's bureaucratic lenience. 

Kirsche didn't buy it. In June, he 1) ordered Platshorn to drop urine every week and 2) forbid him to travel outside South Florida. In July, Platshorn's permission to address a Chicago seminar of the American Bar Association was rescinded. He has been forbidden to associate with Fort Lauderdale medical marijuana patient and activist Irvin Rosenfeld, who each month receives a shipment of 300 federally approved marijuana joints.

More recently, severe guidelines on Platshorn's travel requests were formalized October 23. Adhering to the guidelines, Platshorn applied to attend a late November cannabis festival in Melbourne, Florida. He was denied last week.

In federal court in Miami, where Platshorn has sued to lift the restrictions, the parole office has argued that they're acting for Platshorn's own good. They say his travel "may place him at risk for violating the law." 

As for the First Amendment, the feds say "[Platshorn's] speech may encourage others to violate state and federal law."  Besides, they argue, Platshorn has the Internet and telephone to make his case far from home.

Platshorn's lawyers--Norm Kent of Broward NORML and Stuart attorney Michael Minardi--say this: "Eighteen states of these United States and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana laws in their jurisdiction. [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. He is speaking out, not toking up." 

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