This piece first appeared in Cannabis Now.
The late Billy Mays called him “a legend in the pitch business.”
Robert Platshorn, the man who once sold Vita Mix, frozen food knives, and gadgets in television infomercials, has a new pitch for America’s seniors: “Don’t break the law, change it.”
During the 1970s, Platshorn gained notoriety as a member of the “Black Tuna Gang,” a Miami smuggling ring he ran with Robby Meinster and Big Gene Myers that allegedly brought in 500 tons of marijuana into the United States over a 16-month period. Platshorn served 30 years in feral prison as a nonviolent marijuana offender and has written a book about his experiences called Black Tuna Diaries. He now lives in Florida with his wife Lynne and has turned his pitch-perfect skills toward marijuana reform in a demographic he finds extremely lacking: seniors.
With the Silver Tour — a combination of live shows across South Florida, a lobby day in the halls of Congress and, most importantly, a 30-minute television infomercial called “Should Grandma Smoke Pot?” — Platshorn and his supporters actively ask seniors to lobby their congressional representatives towards legalizing cannabis. He serves as the host of the infomercial, now shown in half a dozen states.
Platshorn said he started the Silver Tour after noticing that seniors, those in the greatest need of the medicinal properties of the plant, voted against reform measures such as California’s Prop 19 by a large majority.
“It was the senior demographic that voted it down, and that surprised me,” he said.
He bemoaned that not a single organization had ever tried speaking to seniors about cannabis, adding, “Being an old pitchman, I figured I was the person to do it.”
Platshorn is joined by federal medical marijuana patient Irvin Rosenfeld in the infomercial, which presents a history of cannabis as well as a request, true to the video’s format, to send in donations to keep the program on the air.
Platshorn said each time the infomercial is shown he gets “tons” of emails full of anecdotes.
“People say things like, the show has opened the lines of communication to their grandmother, who is now more accepting of trying marijuana for medicinal purposes,” he said.
Platshorn gets his message of acceptance and reform out to the public for an extremely low rate due to its infomercial status, and believes to have reached as many seniors as the Silver Tour has reached. He says this means his group has made “more progress than any activist organization has ever made.”
In 2013 the tour sponsored a lobby day in support of House Bill 1523, a bi-partisan piece of legislation that would prevent federal enforcement in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The lobby day involved senior activists from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Colorado, and Arizona. The group managed to lobby 150 Congressional representatives and was well received, Platshorn said.
“I think they were surprised that it wasn’t just a group of students lobbying for pot,” he said. “Today the seniors are coming out of the closet.”
Watch the complete “Should Grandma Smoke Pot?” video in the player below.
Ellen Holland started working at Cannabis Now Magazine on April 21st because she was busy on 4/20. She has served as the magazine’s production manager and associate editor and is passionate about cannabis legalization. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @hollandbuds.