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Back in the 1970’s, drug smuggling felt like more of a sport than a serious crime. The thrill of walking past a cop and not getting in trouble is addictive. At least, that’s how Bruce explains it. He started off selling dime bags in high school but graduated to industrial smuggler well before turning 18.
He earned the name ‘King of Pot’ by smuggling upwards of 346 thousand pounds of marijuana into America over the course of his career. By 1979, his crew grew to over 200 people and 94 vessels spanning the globe. Perlowin managed his private navy from a $3 million fortress in Mendocino County California.
But he couldn’t stay on top forever. The empire began to crumble in 1981 and Bruce was arrested in Chicago in January of 1983. Information from a member of the money-laundering division helped lead authorities to make the arrest.
The Drug War was heating up and cannabis use was a perfect excuse to ramp up enforcement and punishment. Perlowin was one of a whole group that the FBI, CIA and executive officials inside the government made an example of. People like Bruce, Robert Platshorn and dozens of others were rounded up and locked away.
Bruce Perlowin was sentenced to 15 years. He earned an early release after serving nine years in federal prison for drug smuggling. When he was finally released in 1991, Bruce knew his smuggling days were behind him.
When president Obama and Attorney General Holder declared that they were going to deescalate the War on Drugs, Bruce knew it meant new opportunities. Once he realized more than a dozen states already legalized medical marijuana, it was on.
Perlowin got the idea to launch the first publicly-traded medical marijuana company in 2009 after he was featured in a CNBC documentary called Marijuana Inc. The aptly named Medical Marijuana Inc. changed minds about the future of marijuana. The official stock ticket and listing solidified medical marijuana’s legitimacy as an industry before the first state legalized recreational usage.
Perlowin was inspired to launch the first publicly-traded medical marijuana company in 2009 after he was featured in a CNBC documentary called Marijuana Inc. The film aired on American TV, reinforcing the creative title of ‘King of Pot’ handed to him by the Justice Department. For good or ill, the name stuck. Bruce didn’t mind though, he used the added fanfare to help propel him from parolee to business mogul.
Marijuana produces seed, fiber, medicine, food, fuel and building materials. Bruce understands how different the world could be if America embraced Hemp. He also feels that it is “Totally absurd that American farmers can’t farm hemp.”
Industrial hemp is legal to grow in more than 30 countries. The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that does not currently allow the cultivation of hemp. Millions of dollars worth of hemp is imported into the United States each year in order to fulfill the growing demand for hemp products.
The annual retail sales for hemp products was estimated at $620 million in 2014. Much of it is being sourced from Canada, China, and other countries.He even sold his shares of Medical Marijuana Inc. and started Hemp Inc. because he felt so strongly about hemp.
Hemp Inc. caused big issues for the newly crowned king. He was one of the leaders of the pot penny stock bubble of early 2014 that saw the shares of dozens of thinly traded marijuana companies briefly soar and then collapse. In 2016, the SEC charged Perlowin with investment fraud.
The SEC complaint claims Perlowin used his position as CEO to convey hundreds of millions of Hemp Inc shares to companies controlled by Perlowin’s brother, Jed Perlowin, and Barry Epling. The shares were then sold in public markets. According to the SEC, the companies involved in the action entered into bogus consulting deals with Hemp Inc and some of the shares were given as gifts.
But this isn’t first time the Government has gone after Bruce. And it probably won’t be the last. Like many American marijuana outlaws, Bruce is a driven personality who is dedicated to spreading awareness for marijuana and hemp.
While the man may have flaws, his work stands as a testament to the power of determination. Like most drug dealers of the 1970’s, Bruce Perlowin was a product of the Hippy generation. He worked his way up from the bottom, ran an international organization and helped change the business face of cannabis.
Let’s hope the next generation of marijuana entrepreneurs can walk the line between revolutionary business and outlaw a little better. Regardless, it is safe to say that Bruce Perlowin changed what people thought was possible with pot and continues to deliver surprises.