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Few people recognize Robert Platshorn by name.
Even fewer people recognize his face. Yet Robert is a historic figure that ran an international drug smuggling organization called the Black Tuna Gang. The Black Tuna's were disbanded after Platshorn was caught smuggling 500 tons of cannabis into the States during the 1970s. A year after quitting smuggling in 1979, law enforcement caught up with Platshorn and prosecuted the smuggling ring.
The FBI and DEA were looking to make a statement with the Black Tunas. Even though there was never any violence during his trips, Platshorn had the book thrown at him. The saying, 'lock him up and throw away the key' was pretty literal. Robert received the longest sentence ever handed down. The Black Tuna gang may be done, but their legacy lives on in infamy.
So who is Robert Platshorn and why is he so infamous?
Back in the 1970s, he was just a kid looking to make some money. A friend of his was driving loads of cannabis up north from Florida and offered Platshorn a cut if he could find new customers. The gig lasted for a while but eventually, the source dried up and his backup Miami contacts cut into the profits. He eventually wound up in Columbia looking for a direct connection.
Platshorn found his connection in Barranquilla, Columbia and began moving industrial levels of cannabis. As the operation developed, it became more advanced at avoiding capture by authorities. Eventually the Black Tuna Gang employed advanced tactics to maximize profits. This included counter-surveillance, bribes, and a whole lot more. Yet the group never resorted to violence, unlike the crack cocaine dealers later introduced and protected by the CIA.
By 1979, the DEA and FBI gathered a dossier on the Black Tunas and Robert big enough to crush a moose. When they finally met up with Platshorn, his time roaming the ocean on his fleet of yachts was over. They threw the book at him without a second thought. In 1980, he was given the longest sentence ever; 30 years in federal prison for non-violent crimes.
Enforcement cracked down on groups like the Black Tunas but created a product vacuum.
The biggest difference between the Black Tunas and the violent cartels of the 80s was of scale. The Tunas were just one link in the illicit supply chain. They didn't handle production or the street-level distribution. In effect, the Black Tunas were a bunch of hippies working as middle-men.
Platshorn couldn't foresee the level of profits and carnage that came to characterize the illegal drug trade, but he had a gut feeling. He felt coke was "bad karma." He knew it was a substance people died around. Robert is a stoner hippie that didn't want anything to do with the negativity cocaine trafficking brought with it.
The crackdown on non-violent smugglers gave the cocaine overlords an incentive to organize. With a product worth 10 times more than pot and with the War on Drugs escalating, the cartels streamlined. They improved the methods stoners like Platshorn used to evade, capture and become multinational corporations.
The new generation of smugglers had their own security forces, advanced money-laundering systems, large-scale processing laboratories, and street-level distribution. "It was the beginning of fundamental changes in trafficking routes and in forms of gang organization," says Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami professor and expert in U.S.-Latin American relations and drug trafficking.
Platshorn got busy after prison.
After his release in 2008, the 69-year-old Platshorn got to work. He wrote a book about his smuggling experiences called the Black Tuna Diaries. He is also determined to get cannabis rescheduled so nobody else has to spend decades in prison for cannabis. His efforts also helped him become the director of the Florida National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
At the same time, he began petitioning to put medical marijuana on the Florida ballot. It took many local government meetings but Platshorn finally convinced Senator Jeff Clemens to introduce the first MMJ bill to the Florida legislature.
The future is still bright.
Mr Platshorn hosted MEET THE EXPERTS events across the country. They were so successful, Jon Stewart's Daily Show, CNN Money and the front page of The Wall Street Journal all spotlighted his work. He created an “edu-mercial” Should Grandma Smoke Pot? aired on TV stations in a dozen cities. Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard University even called SGSP? the best program on cannabis.
Platshorn received and was High Times Freedom Fighter of the Year Award for his work educating legislators, businessmen and the senior population on the benefits of medical marijuana. Robert continues to be an active member of the cannabis community and shows no signs of slowing down.