After he smoked his first spliff while at Oxford University, his horizons broadened rapidly, he went on to become the world’s most famousWeed smuggler, using touring bands to transport tonnes of it across borders, he was responsible for shifting around a quarter of the world’s cannabis shipments.
Having served seven years in an US penitentiary before going on to become the best selling author of “Mr. Nice” and “Mr. Smiley”. The secret to Baron’s success appears to be charm, it was the charm that:
- Got him out of the Welsh valleys and into Oxford University.
- Enabled him to seduce the well-bred totty he found there.
- Established the contacts that took him into the world of international dope smuggling.
- Saved his white ass in a tough, black prison in America after his luck ran out.
- Got him out of potentially compromising situations / He claimed to be a member of the Mexican Secret Service when caught with a large quantity ofHash !
- Made his autobiography “Mr Nice”, a best seller.
- Flourished his musical career which was kick-started in 1996 and his TV and film career.
I smoked dope, read Jack Kerouac, listened to Bob Dylan and Roland Kirk and went to French movies. About a year later I went to the Wholly Communion at the Royal Albert Hall that had Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and all those other legendary beat poets. That was around the time I first started taking acid. And it was a very significant experience, too, a lot of stuff to come to terms with in one’s head. You certainly didn’t think of it as being a club drug or anything like that, it was a mind-altering, profound experience.
The weed baron, the Britain’s most famous weed smuggler, the former Oxford physics graduate and the fluent Welsh speaker, Dennis Howard Marks (13 August 1945 – 10 April 2016) was born in Kenfig Hill, Wales. Brought up as a Baptist, he later turned to Buddhism.
He was hiding under any of 43 aliases with an impressive array of disguises and passports, and he became known as “Mr. Nice” after he bought a passport from “Donald Nice”. He didn’t get from being “Britain’s Most Wanted Fugitive” and the depths of a US prison cell to this cosy flat without being one wily survivor.
He having been declared guilty by the “American Drug Enforcement Administration” and given a 25-year sentence to be served at “Terre Haute” and was released in April 1995 after serving seven years.
His evolutionary career started after he was released from prison, when he transformed himself from the most famous weed smuggler into an author, raconteur and spokesman for theCannabis class. He published a best-selling autobiography, “Mr. Nice”, and campaigned publicly for changes in drugs legislation.
In common with a large proportion of his generation, the first record the young Marks bought was “Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock”, in 1955! Rock’n’roll came before sex and weed as Marks’ first love, and in his flat in Fulham are many of his teenage records, including a 78 of “Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock”, the first single he ever bought. Marks did not follow up his music business contacts when he progressed from academia to dealing. He said:
I’d have loved to be smoking dope with rock stars but I never sold to rock stars. I was a street dealer in Oxford, then I moved to become a wholesale dealer in London and then a smuggler.
At this time, smuggling cannabis to the US in unsuspecting rock bands’ equipment happened when British bands started touring America with their own equipment. He said:
And some of these bands were taking huge amounts of equipment on tour with them. I remember ELP were travelling around with three container loads of equipment – you can carry a heck of a lot of dope around in there.
So he set it up and stuck theDope in the equipment and then got it out the other side, he did it with ELP, Pink Floyd, Clapton, Genesis. Plus one of the guys, “Jim Morris”, had a firm called “Kelsey Morris” which made a lot of this equipment, so obviously we had it designed so that it could carry more dope.
He realised that nobody was actually checking up on the “Pink Floyd” touring schedule when the equipment arrived. So then he just made up a fictitious band and sent out the equipment with Pink Floyd’s name stencilled on it. He said:
We actually called the band "Laughing Grass", which was a bit up our own arses and maybe a bit risky. But we got away with it. And so we carried on until finally one day it fucked up.
The story show us that Marks was a charming guy, and he was not the sort of weed pusher. It is a quite sad story of Marks, the charming welshman who doesn’t agree with the law, the famous Welsh dope smuggler who had forty-three aliases, eighty-nine phone lines and who owned twenty-five companies throughout the world, who smuggled up to thirty tonnes of weeds, and he had contacts all over the place, most famously with the IRA although he also knew people at MI6, the CIA and the Mafia.
It’s interesting to read about some of his plans and schemes, like when they hide weed in the amplifiers of touring musicians to exploit a loophole in the laws and processes at customs. In fact, his eventual arrest causes all kinds of questions to come up, and he was as much of a political prisoner as anything else. He was the nice guy, a guy who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to try and do it.
It was an extraordinary life, international weed smuggling, secret meetings with MI6, games of cat and mouse with the “Drug Enforcement Administration” and, in the end, a US prison sentence.
Howard Marks, who died on 10 April and will be best remembered as “Mr Nice” pulled off all manner of madcap plots and stunts during his time in the hash game.
Yet perhaps his greatest feat was his transformation in the public imagination into an alternative national treasure. On his death he was hailed by “James Brown”, the magazine editor who employed Marks as a columnist, as a “True Modern-Day Folk Hero”.