Godfathers of Ganja

MV5BMjExOTk3NTQzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1NjM4NA@@._V1_SY317_CR8,0,214,317_Square Grouper, in rotation on Showtime, and available on demand from Netflix and other streaming sites, reveals how a completely non-violent and family friendly marijuana trade was shut down in the late 1970s. Strangely, it was quickly replaced by a super violent cocaine trade. The makers of this film actually did the cocaine story first, but were led to study what had preceded it.

The film tells three separate stories and reveals how the press is often used to soften up targets and enhance prosecutions.

The first concerns the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, wherein we learn about two Jewish kids from the East Coast who visit Jamaica and get drawn into one of the mansions of Rastafarianism, a sect known as the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, and begin smuggling ganja back to the States, eventually buying many multi-ton freighters and vast amounts of land in Jamaica, so much so that the Church becomes the biggest employer in Jamaica. Supposedly, they are paying $200 million a year in bribes and payoffs to remain untouchable, which amounts to around a quarter of their profits. They decide to open an “embassy” on chic Star Island in Miami, which becomes infamous for sunrise chanting sessions and thick clouds of ganja blowing downwind. They apply for and receive official government recognition as a church. The DEA knows what’s going on, sort of, but remains hands-off due to religious rights issues. The government has always been extremely reluctant to allow any crack in the dike they’ve constructed against cannabis religious rights.

A CBS reporter named Mark Potter gains access to the house on Star Island and captures footage of young children smoking ganja. This footage is used to spearhead a campaign against the Church. Eventually the home on Star Island and many other properties are raided and thousands of tons of cannabis are discovered stashed around Florida. Incredibly, the sentences are light, from 1 to 6 years, and the founder of the Church in Jamaica, the one with the millions of dollars, is never extradited, but instead, eventually assassinated.

5464879793_983f0af901_mThe second story traces the history of the Black Tuna Gang, who at the time of capture were painted as the biggest kingpins in the history of dope smuggling. Yet they did only a small fraction of that Coptic Church and all around the same time? Robert Platshorn of Philadelphia was the leader (left).

Black Tuna was really just a couple of buddies from Philadelphia, middle men in the cannabis trade, who decided to expand operations to meet growing demand. Platshorn flew to Bogota and instantly met all the right people just sitting in his hotel cafe. He had no money for that first load, so used himself as a hostage until the million or so in cash arrived by plane.

Unfortunately, Platshorn got caught up in Zee Big One. That’s what the alphabet soup agencies call an operation designed to coincide with a budget review or show-down in Congress. At the time, the DEA was fighting to stay alive. The agency was Nixon’s creation, his way of balancing the FBI and CIA, although it was heavily penetrated by both. The made members of Platshorn’s outfit wore gold medallions with a black tuna on their chests and when boats would meet offshore in the dark, “black tuna” was a signal shouted out. Those words quickly worked their way into the press, who blew them up into “the biggest pot gangsters in the world.” That myth got shattered when High Times dubbed them the “gang that couldn’t deal straight,” because half their loads got lost or stolen.

The DEA was worried, so they went to the FBI and said something like, “hey, I know we have a reputation for not getting along, but we’ve got Ze Big One down in Miami and could use some of your mojo, and can offer a chunk of the forfeiture rights.” However it happened, Black Tuna became the first joint FBI-DEA operation.

There’s a made “man of honor” in jail in Philadelphia, known as “Homerun” for being handy with a baseball bat, a real mobster who knows Platshorn. In order to spring himself, he says something like, “release me and I’ll hand you Black Tuna on a platter.” He jets down to Miami, where Platshorn is out on bail, and offers all sorts of advice, including a wonderful set of fake id’s all perfectly made. The gangster is saying how they just need to get the judge recused because the next one in line can be easily bribed. “Once we get rid of the judge, you’ll get a one or two year sentence,” says the gangster into his wire. “It’ll only cost a millon dollars.” Platshorn doesn’t have a million, but that doesn’t matter because now he’s on tape talking about it.

Meanwhile, one of the jurors has a relative float a $25,000 offer to Platshorn to insure his release. It’s like a shark frenzy and everyone smells cash, only he doesn’t have much because the prosecutor made it up. But the prosecutor leverages these two incidents to revoke Platshorn’s bail and greatly enhance his sentence.

He eventually received an incredible 63 years, served 28, and he came out in remarkable shape, immediately becoming an activist for seniors for cannabis, a campaign he calls the Silver Tour, but you can see the trauma etched in his face when he tells his tales of government manipulation.

The last story in the film is about Everglades City, a small fishing town on the southwestern tip of Florida where everyone is related and there are only five last names in the phone book. After the government declared the Everglades a protected area, they shut down most of the fishing, depriving the locals of a livelihood. So of course the entire town became involved in pot smuggling, the most profitable thing they could do.

Under the guise of writing a harmless story about the Everglades, reporter Mark Potter comes to town and hangs around for a few days and interviews a few people about fishing and such. But as he hangs out day after day, he suddenly seems more interested in discussing the local marijuana industry, and locals start sharing stories, naming no names of course.

nbc_potter_mark_smile_060418.grid-4x2I’m sure Mark filed some reports on the dangerous Black Tuna Gang as well, after all, dope was his beat and he was based in Miami most of his career. But here he is basically doing a con job that’s going to destroy a lot of families? The sad thing about this case is they managed to insert a couple informers and it was just enough to turn half the town into snitches. The half that snitched did one or two years, while the ones that didn’t did 4 to 6. Talk about destroying a community. Most of these people were low-level worker bees doing jobs they used to do, only getting a week’s pay a night, something a lot more of us could achieve if we could just find a way to cut out Illuminati profits and CEO salaries.

Potter works at NBC now. He’s been posted at all the networks’ biggest shows, and has all the biggest awards, including tons of Emmys. Funny how we both graduated from prominent Midwestern colleges with journalism degrees around the same time, and ended up rising to the top of our chosen fields, only mine was supporting legalization, and his was supporting prohibition.


Author: Steven Hager

I'm a writer, journalist, filmmaker and event producer.

2 thoughts on “Godfathers of Ganja”

  1. I met Mark Potter several times while shooting Square Grouper. It’s hard to fault a reporter who is good at his job and does good accurate investigative reports. By the time Mark got to Everglades City,half of South Florida knew what was going on there. Mark is still doing great reporting for NBC from South Florida and Latin America. Like all the smugglers, lawyers, and agents, Mark was part of our story.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Robert. Let me know if I can ever help. I love your Silver Tour concept. As for Potter’s great work, he could have gone deeper in his investigations. He covered the Noreiga trial but never put the dots together that Noreiga had been working with the CIA or that the crack epidemic had been encouraged to fund the Contra effort in Central America. He could have written stories about how your case was being blown out of proportion and you were being set-up. But all his stories supported the establishment view and never peered into some of the deeper politics around drugs and smuggling.

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