Robert Platshorn’s neighbors in his West Palm Beach retirement community only lately learned how varied the 70-year-old’s life has been. A nice Jewish boy from South Philly, he’s hawked kitchen gadgets on the Atlantic City boardwalk, lived in London running a chain of European speed-reading schools and, in the late 70s, led the Black Tuna gang running weed by the ton into the US from Colombia.
He got busted for that and served 28 years in 11 US prisons – more time for marijuana than any other American. When he got out he wrote a memoir. Then he started a marijuana legalization campaign. And that’s when Platshorn realized that legalization referendums were failing because of the senior vote. Ironic, he thought, since pot has proven medicinal value for ailments of age like glaucoma and Alzheimer’s.
Out of that realization was born the Silver Tour, Platshorn’s crusade to convince America’s seniors of the wisdom of pot legalization. He’s preached it in Florida’s temples and the state’s senior communities, and on the Internet, of which Platshorn is a fan.
A solidly built man of medium height and weathered face, Platshorn greeted Senior Planet in his modest South Florida home, where we spoke as his wife served us cherry tomatoes, cheese and olives.
Can you tell us about The Silver Tour and its origins?
The origins had three steps. First was when I was speaking at the Seattle Hemp Fest to a crowd of thousands. I looked out and realized everyone there was already an activist. Second came when I looked at the exit polling on the California decriminalization initiative and saw seniors voted against it 65 percent. I was surprised: That’s my generation, and we invented marijuana. Seniors knew it was good for glaucoma and the side effects of chemo. But they had no idea of its use for arthritis and sleep. I knew I had to go out and educate them. The only ones talking to seniors were the opponents – the beer lobby – scaring them with stories about stoners on the road.
What sealed the deal was a man I met on the tennis court. He told me, “Bobby, my wife has MS. I spend all my time taking care of her. Can she find something to smoke? You know what I mean.” He was afraid to go to the street and get busted. And I couldn’t do anything for him. Yet Florida is one of biggest senior states, where seniors are the most important voting bloc, strong enough to overcome a multimillion dollar lobby on the other side. No politician can afford to lose the senior vote. I call it my “secret weapon.”
Generally, what’s the response of seniors to your ideas?
The attitude in the beginning is skeptical but open. Most seniors have tried marijuana but put it aside because of legal risks. But they’ve used it in their youth or have children or relatives who did. Now what they need is a personal reason to accept the positive.
What do you tell them about the positives?
Most seniors have little knowledge of marijuana’s medical benefits. But most have trouble sleeping, and most are habituated to sleep drugs like Ambien, which causes you to lose REM sleep, puts you in fugue state. Cannabis gives you sleep more naturally, without losing REM sleep or other side effects. It’s also good for Crohn’s Disease and various pain conditions. And for seniors who lack appetite, have trouble keeping their weight up – everyone knows about the munchies.
How does your own aging figure into all this?
The fact that I’m the same age as the audience makes it easier for them to relate to me. In I’ve never had a problem relating to any ethnic or age group. But because we come from the same era – Woodstock, volunteer army – that just makes it easier.
What do you tell seniors about recreational pot?
All marijuana use is medicinal, especially for seniors. If they’re using it recreationally they’re not as likely to use anti-depressants. They can do without pain relievers. Their mood is up instead of down. Seniors may feel they’re taking it recreationally, but anytime you can relax it’s medically beneficial. Nothing makes retirement more delightful than being able to wake and bake and stay that way. I can show you thousands of seniors who can tell you that. They’re in the closet, but they’re smoking.
How’s the Silver Tour going?
I don’t care who you are and how much you’re against it, when you see my show, you swing. And I’ve got the proof. I’ve worked to an audience of 200 and had a 190 swing – some people actually write letters and make phone calls to their congressmen. These old ladies come in saying, “I came for the buffet” and “My grandson told me to come,” and they’re walking out saying, “I am old enough to make up my own mind. I think this should be available.”
How did you make a living when you first got out of jail?
It took me a year to learn how to use a computer to write my book. During that time I was pitching greaseless frying pans in Costcos, and I did some commercials. I produced an infomercial for a garnishing kit and a garnishing book: how to make a rose out of a carrot, a peacock out of an onion.
A lot of technological change happened while you were incarcerated. What was your biggest surprise related to technology when you came out?
I love computers! I’m an information junkie. I probably read 1000 biographies while I was in prison. When I got out and taught myself to use Windows and Word, and realized you really couldn’t screw up anything you can’t undo. I found I could answer any question! I mean, we were sitting here the other night and something came up about a high school teacher of mine who said something about the Hepburn sisters, Katherine and Audrey. So I always assumed they were sisters. They’re not. They’re not in any way related. It took one second. But all my life I thought they were related.
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