HOWARD Marks ran a global cannabis smuggling empire on an unprecedented scale.
At its height in the mid 1980s, Marks had forty-three aliases, eighty-nine phone lines and twenty five companies trading throughout the world, as he moved consignments of up to 30 tonnes of hasish from Pakistan and Thailand to America and Canada.
His career led to him coming into contact with organisations as diverse as the IRA, the CIA, MI6 and the Mafia.
However Marks, an Oxford graduate who shunned violence or trading hard drugs, hardly fits the profile of a typical drug baron.
Nevertheless, once the American authorities finally caught up with him in 1988, he was sentenced to 25 years jail in Terre Haute Penitentiary in Indiana - the site of America’s only Federal Death Row.
Upon his release seven years later, Marks’ career took a different path.
He became a best-selling author with the release of his autobiography, Mr Nice, in 1996. The book was this year adapted into a feature film of the same name, starring fellow Welshman Rhys Ifans.
He has also toured the world with his now legendary one-man show, which will arrive in Scarborough for the first time on Friday, and remains a campaigner for the legalisation of the drug which made him a fortune.
The 65-year-old granted an exclusive interview to Evening News reporter Daniel Sanderson, and maintained he has no regrets about the choices which led to him being dubbed the most sophisticated drug baron of all time.
Q: Have you ever been to Scarborough? If so, when and what did you think?
A: I did three or four years ago to participate in a benefit gig for the prisoner Charlie Bronson when I was on one of my mad tours. The gig itself was good, but I didn’t get to see any of Scarborough. Part of the show was done somewhere at or near Scarborough and another part in a restaurant God knows where.
Q: Your career as a drug dealer allowed you to live a lifestyle beyond most people’s wildest dreams. On the back of drug dealing, you have also become a respected author and popular, even heroic, counter-culture figure. However you also spent seven years of your life in prison, missing out on significant parts of your children’s lives and causing misery to your wife at the time, who was also incarcerated for a while. Do you regret ever becoming involved with drug dealing?
A: I certainly have no regrets about being involved with drug dealing. I have had a very blessed and interesting life.
Q: If you could start over again what would you do for a living?
A: Become a drug dealer.
Q: What changes do you think we would see in British society if cannabis was legalised?
A: It probably wouldn’t be mixed with impurities, as it sometimes is now. One would know how strong it is, which one often doesn’t now. One would know its origin. Some profits from its sale could be used to fund those in need. People wouldn’t have their lives ruined by taking it. Young people would not be unnecessarily thrown into conflict against police. In summary, lots of advantages and no disadvantage. It’s insane not to do it.
Q: In the 1960s, dope smoking and dealing was synonymous with non profit making hippy ideals of love, peace and co-operation. Do you think you were ahead of your time in identifying and exploiting this trade as just another business opportunity for deriving significant personal gain?
A: I wouldn’t say I was ahead of my time. I was just part of that time.
Q: Do you think your example helped steer the cannabis market towards becoming commercialised and gangster run?
A: No. I don’t think it is more commercialised now, in the sense I understand the meaning of the word. It is more gangster run, for sure, but that is because both the penalties for its trade and the detection technology used by law enforcement have risen so much, the business itself is bound to be left to the devices of hard nuts who don’t take any drugs, other than possibly steroids. It’s a direct consequence of prohibition.
Q: You have famously claimed to smoke dope every day, but you are not as young as you once were. Do you ever have days out for recuperation?
Q: In your book you describe coming from a relatively traditional, working class family. What did your parents think of your cannabis dealing and use?
A: They disapproved but always stood by me as someone who sincerely believed something different from what they did.
Q: What did you think of the Mr Nice film?
A: Absolutely first class.
Q: Did you look as old as Rhys Ifans when you were 18?
A: Nothing like.
Q: How does the buzz of being on stage compare with the feeling of being waved through a European border check point with a car full of potent hash?
A: Similar, but smuggling pumps out more adrenaline, the only drug I get paid to take.
Q: What can people expect if they come along to your show in Scarborough?
A: To laugh.
Q: Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
A: I’ve written a crime fiction novel, which will be released in May 2011.
Q: What’s in your tin?
A: Afghan hashish, thin skins, and American Spirit tobacco.
l Howard Marks’ one man show will be at Vivaz in Huntriss Row on Friday, starting at 7.30pm
Published on Wed Dec 08 11:23:30 GMT 2010
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