Seniors and Cannabis Stigma: No More “Reefer Madness”

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PHOTO: “Brownie Mary” Rathbun

Ladybud readers agree that cannabis prohibition causes societal harms, and we can be counted at ballot boxes across the nation. But, our votes do not add up to a clear win for legalization. Instead, it is the 10% of people who “swing vote” on this issue that control the fate of future cannabis regulations. Senior citizens are a key demographic in shaping marijuana policy and now some seniors are coming forward to publicly declare their support.

In 1936, the United States government waged a propaganda campaign demonizing cannabis use and convincing Americans one puff would hijack their brains, or “Reefer Madness.” This campaign was so successful, despite objections from the American Medical Association, Congress passed the Cannabis Stamp Tax Act, kicking off 76 years of ongoing Federal prohibition. The lingering effects of Reefer Madness are still influencing senior citizens, evidenced by a recent Reason-Rupe survey which shows seniors are the only group still split on prosecuting people for cannabis use, with 46% in favor and 46% against. Eight percent still believe people should be jailed even for small amounts of cannabis. In Washington State, where cannabis was recently legalized by ballot initiative, 55% of seniors voted “no” against the proposition.

Robert Platshorn, a Florida senior, is working hard to educate retiree’s about ending prohibition. He spent 30 years in prison for pot, a 1970’s casualty of over zealous DEA agents determined to use the newly created “kingpin” status in the media for the first time. After being convicted and serving his time, all on the word of a single informant, Platshorn was released and began to educate people about the “irrational imprisonment and destruction of so many young and old lives” due to cannabis prohibition. His “Silver Tour” uses mass media and grassroots outreach to educate seniors about the benefits of cannabis, while countering 76 years of reefer madness.

Right now, Platshorn is immersed in preparation for the “Senior Rally and Lobby Day on Capitol Hill,” which the Silver Tour is co-sponsoring along with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). Seniors and students will unite on June 17th to encourage lawmakers to let states regulate cannabis. He took a few minutes to tell Ladybud about his work and the upcoming event.

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY: You are a front lines cannabis advocate who has risked freedom for the cause. What drives you to do this work, despite the price you have paid by exercising these freedoms?

ROBERT PLATSHORN: As someone who spent 30 years in prison for pot, I naturally want to stop the irrational imprisonment and destruction of so many young and old lives. Plus, as a senior in a state full of seniors who desperately need access to this medicine, I can’t turn my back on these people.

Additionally, it quickly became clear to me that our movement needed a pitchman, someone who knows how to use mass media to educate not only seniors, but also the entire mainstream. Someone who actually knows how to speak to the press and create a positive image to replace the long-time “stoner” image that has held us back.  This has been lacking for a long time.

DG: The Silver Tour educates seniors about cannabis and the need to end prohibition. This demographic just may be the key to legalization. Are seniors as afraid of cannabis as we think?

RP: Seniors are a lot less afraid of the cannabis option than they were two years ago when the Silver Tour began. That is why I started this outreach to seniors. Our live shows, TV show, “Should Grandma Smoke Pot”, and all the national positive press like The Wall St Journal, CNN Money and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, have made millions of seniors comfortable with idea of using and legalizing marijuana.  Seniors have the greatest medical need and can reap the greatest health and financial benefits.


DG: Many seniors would benefit from the medical uses of cannabis, yet demographic data shows they are less likely to use it. Do you think this “stigma” against cannabis use is created by the fear of arrest, or is it more like fear of becoming a brain damaged stoner?

RP: What makes my job easy is that seniors are mostly my generation. We invented marijuana, as it is known today. We never bought into Reefer Madness. It just takes a reminder and a few words from a respected doctor. What makes my job hard, is finding the money to keep our TV campaign on the air and put it on in every city. Commercial TV is the only place you will find the audience we need to educate, motivate and mobilize. No organization has ever dared take our message to the masses in any effective way.  There are a dozen great documentaries out there that have no chance of ever reaching the mainstream. They are seen by activists, maybe an airing or two on TV and then relegated to You Tube to be seen by more activists. We run our TV show fifty to a hundred times in each market, like an infomercial. It works, but it costs.

DG: What kind of negative and positive experiences have seniors reported having from the use of cannabis?

RP: I’ve spoken to hundreds of seniors who have had only a positive experience with cannabis, but only a few who have had a negative experience. Usually the problem is fear of arrest or that they are uncomfortable with the totally relaxed feeling they get from marijuana. One neighbor of mine in her 80’s complained that it gave her the first good night’s sleep in years, but she was afraid to try again for fear that she would not wake up. These fears are easily overcome by the type of education provided for novice patients in Israel, where they are trained to use by experienced peer counselors.

DG: Seniors seem to locate in states that have harsher cannabis laws, like in Florida where you are based. Can seniors even get cannabis, if they want it?

RP: Seniors locate where it is warm and affordable. Because cannabis is impossible to obtain legally in Florida, seniors have to rely on the black market, and that scares many away. A man I play tennis with begged me to help him find pot for his wife who suffered from MS. I felt awful, but had to demur. That’s why I started the Silver Tour in the first place. These people need help.

DG: Are seniors still at risk of being jailed for occasional cannabis use?

RP: Thanks to public sympathy and a few good medical defense cases, most law enforcement agencies in Florida rarely target seniors anymore. Especially after the Cathy Jordan incident, where police raided the home of a medical cannabis advocate with Lou Gehrig’s disease, hours after she was quoted in the Miami Herald advocating for state law reform.

DG: What type of discrimination do senior citizens face in housing, especially as they move into managed or hospice care? 

RP: Seniors in Florida are vetted for housing in all “Over 55” communities. They keep their cannabis use to themselves. Assisted living and hospice is a different story. If they are caught, they are out, even though Florida hospice nurses support marijuana use over opiates for suffering seniors.

DG: Tell Ladybud readers about the Silver Tour and the Senior Lobby Day in Washington DC on June 17th, 2013.

Robert Platshorn, founder of The Silver Tour.

Robert Platshorn, founder of The Silver Tour.


RP: The Silver Tour is the only organization with this single function: to use the mass media to educate seniors and the broad mainstream about the truth and benefits of cannabis and to counter the 76 years of lies by the federal government. Unlike several other organizations, we are not activists talking to other activists in the hopes that they will spread the word.

The purpose of our partnership with SSDP for a Senior Rally and Lobby Day on Capitol Hill is to press for passage of HR 1523. This is a truly bi-partisan, simple budget amendment, that would prevent the federal government from continuing to prosecute residents who are acting in accordance with their state’s marijuana laws. The bill would legalize marijuana at the federal level to the extent it is legal at the state level. It would not only end the prosecutions in California, it would open the way for many more states that are holding back legalization for fear of Federal interference.

Finally, I have worked in, and was educated, in journalism and the media. I know what interests and attracts media attention. This Rally is a world’s first. Seniors on Capitol Hill demanding cannabis reform! The media will be there in force and the politicians will be pressured by the prospect of losing the powerful senior vote. I sincerely hope everyone will dig deep and support what can be the game changer for America. Please contribute at Seniors Go to Capitol Hill for Cannabis.


Seniors, and all other voters, are moving slowly towards supporting legalization of cannabis. Statistics expert Nate Silver shows, in a detailed study of polling data, support for legalization has been slowly on the rise since 1992. He says, “the position no longer holds the stigma that it once did,” and if the trend continues, national support for legalization will be at a “super majority” by 2022.

2022 is not soon enough for Robert Platshorn and the seniors he works with who want cannabis law reform now. But, there is still much work to do educating seniors to vote “yes” for ending cannabis prohibition.

Perhaps, they need to learn more about the work of Gary Wenk, Ph.D., a Professor at Ohio State University. In his lab, he has found that “stimulating the brain’s marijuana receptors may offer protection by reducing brain inflammation and by restoring neurogenesis. Thus, later in life, marijuana might actually help your brain, rather than harm it.” Simply put, cannabis seems to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The moniker “a puff is enough” was coined by his colleague in France, Dr. Yannick Marchalant, after he found that a daily puff of cannabis was enough to have significant medical effect.

As they say, “put that in your pipe, and smoke it.”