Reviewing Black Tuna Diaries: The Autobiography of Robert Elliot Platshorn

Black Tuna Diaries Signed Paperback by Robert Platshorn
Before Freeway Ricky Ross and George Jung built empires on the crack and cocaine trades in the 1970’s and 80’s, Robert Platshorn and his friends were in the business of smuggling marijuana.

This is among many interesting facts told to me by Mr. Platshorn when I met him in Las Vegas a few weeks ago at the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo.

We talked for a few moments in the smoking area outside the Rio on two separate occasions throughout the conference, and at first I thought he was Ata Gonzalez, which is what his badge said. I soon realized I was talking to someone much more fascinating than the former CEO of GFarmaLabs.

In fact, his story is so interesting, I purchased an autographed copy of the paperback (pictured above). By paying for a book, Platshorn understood he wasn’t only dealing with a guy with a press badge – he had a customer. Soon I was getting a quick sales pitch and tour of the book, along with a nice conversation about mobile card readers after his Square phone attachment failed to read the magnetic strip on my PayPal card (a common problem I experience with that damned card).

When I told him I would read it in a few weeks and post a review along with a link, Platshorn retorted, “a couple weeks? This book is so good, you’ll have it finished in a day or two because you won’t be able to put it down.”

I more meant I would have to organize my time to fit reading the tome into my winter schedule, but his words circled in my head as I sorted through all the information I gathered on the trip.

I finally found time to read the book during Thanksgiving week, and I’m impressed by Platshorn’s story, though he definitely needs a professional editor.

The Business of Marijuana

Most of the narrative we’re told these days focuses on Mexico supplying black market marijuana to the United States while Columbia supplies the cocaine. As we saw on Cocaine Cowboys, those relationships weren’t necessarily exclusive.

Black Tuna Diaries illustrates the perspective of one of America’s biggest marijuana smugglers, who transported between 500,000 and 1,000,000 pounds of trimmed marijuana from Columbia to Miami and the rest of the east coast in the 1970’s.

The book skips back and forth between personal narratives delving into the drug smuggling business and growing up in the 20th century each chapter. Both sets of flashbacks could easily stand alone as their own stories, though they blend well here.

Being a pirate with a love of cannabis, I was instantly hooked by the story. The only problem I had reading it was the lack of editing meant an average of one typo per page. Now I know I’m not one to talk, as my blog is riddled with typos, but I’m also not selling a book.

This man ran the pot game...
This man ran the pot game…

The Inner Workings of Smuggling

What makes Black Tuna Diaries easy to read despite the typos is the level of detail you get about how the drug smuggling operation really worked. Platshorn and his gang of Fishing Fools (dubbed the Black Tuna Gang by the media and DEA) went to great lengths to look normal while transporting weed, painting new water lines on overloaded boats, flying planes, facing foreign guerrillas, and more just to bring marijuana into the country.

No matter how much planning went into each drop, it felt like everything that could go wrong did, but Platshorn and his conspirators (including Robert Meinster) still pushed through lost shipments, broken boats, and corrupt officials to successfully pull off some awe-inspiring trips.

High Times Gonzo Glass Art Cannabis MJBizDaily Las Vegas Rio 2015

Starting in planes, they soon move to boats and even go so far as to enter (and constantly trophy in) fishing tournaments as a cover. Despite all the money and equipment, you know that he inevitably gets caught and serves 30 years in federal prison.

Platshorn’s story didn’t just remind me of Blow; Billy Corben, the director of Cocaine Cowboys, was also drawn to the story, including the Black Tuna Gang’s story in Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja.

He also acknowledges High Times, and thanks the staff of the iconic counterculture magazine, as responsible for the cover illustrations and convincing him to publish the story. Now in his 70’s and 6 years out of jail, the world is a much different place than it was when Bobby Tuna was sentenced to prison.

Final Thought on the Legendary Black Tuna Gang

After finishing Platshorn’s book, I was inspired to go back and rewatch both Cocaine Cowboys and Square Grouper, both with a deeper appreciation, having seen the border and drug wars my whole life and meeting this extraordinary man in person.

Swag from MJBizDaily LV 2015 B2B Conference

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cropped-brian-penny-anonymous-gonzo1.jpgBrian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared in High Times, Cannabis Now, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Hardcore Droid, and more.


Dr. Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. You can find his work in Cracked, High Times, HuffPost, Lifewire, Forbes, Fast Company, and dozens of other places, although much of it is no longer under his name. Dr. Penny loves annoying fake media.

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