Howard Marks was once labelled "the most sophisticated drug baron of all time" by the Daily Mail. He dealt with such polar opposites as the Mafia and CIA, and the IRA and MI6. In the 90s he served seven years in a maximum security US prison and he did business with Afghan warlords. But, early on in his academic career, Marks also scored a First at an Oxford university. All of this while being high on pot. No one else has given dope such a high profile name and face in Britain while upsetting the authorities and still being liked by the public (much because of his friendly looks and gentle Welsh accent), and that's the reason Marks today is able to tour the world with his stories, opinions on legalised drugs and anecdotes about guns, drugs and parties.
It's also Mark's years of heavy hedonism and serious crimes that today lay the ground for his first foray into fictional literature - after having written his memoirs, Mr Nice, a while back - and a spot as a Diesel School of Island Life guest speaker. Having had 43 aliases and 89 phone lines for 25 different companies at one point during the 80s, there is no doubt that the man has a lot of stories to share. So with the last date in London coming up, this is a good opportunity to to hear from the man himself how one goes from a BA degree in nuclear physics to a Masters in drug smuggling...
Dazed Digital: How and why did you get started in the drug smuggling business?
Howard Marks: By smoking a cannabis joint, enjoying it a lot, wanting to smoke more than I could afford, and buying more than I could smoke. It was a gradual process lasting about six years (1964-69) when I was a student at Oxford and Sussex universities.
DD: What were the highs and lows of those years?
Howard Marks: The highs were from the cannabis itself, the perpetual culture shock inherent in any frenzied international business, and the money. The lows were getting busted and doing time in prison.
DD: Did you ever try (and like) harder drugs than cannabis?
Howard Marks: Yes. I’ve tried and liked heroin, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, DMT, opium, mescaline, alcohol, absinthe, ketamine, salvia divinorum, Hawaiian Baby Woodrow, amphetamine, mandrax, ether, nitrous oxide, and various designer drugs.
DD: What was the scariest moment for you?
Howard Marks: My first day at a United States Federal Penitentiary.
DD: How do you rate the Mafia/IRA in 'likeability' compared to MI6/CIA?
Howard Marks: At the top, with MI6 a long way behind, and CIA a much longer way behind.
DD: Why should cannabis be legalised?
Howard Marks: Because it would be safer to society and subject to control.
DD: Will it ever happen do you think?
Howard Marks: Yes, but I have no idea when.
DD: Tell us about your new book, Sympathy for the Devil, what and who is it about?
Howard Marks: It’s written from the point of view of a female undercover police officer and is a whodunit focussing on the disappearance of a rock star. It’s set in Wales and concerns drugs, satanic cults, and corrupt police.
DD: How much of the detailing is from your life?
Howard Marks: A lot...
DD: Are you still considered a threat by the authorities do you reckon?
Howard Marks: I’m sure not; otherwise, I would be killed.
DD: What's next for you?
Howard Marks: I signed a contract to write a series. The next in the series, The Score, has already been written and is awaiting final editing.
DD: What can we expect from the London talk?
Howard Marks: Thought provoking humour and darkness.
Howard Mark's Diesel School of Island Life talk is at the St Aloysius, 20 Phoenix Road, London NW1 1TA, 6pm-8pm. Entry is free when showing your Diesel Island passport, which can be collected at Diesel stores