Dennis Howard Marks was born in the small Welsh town of Bridgend. Marks had a reputation for being a young rogue that roamed the miner towns’ streets, looking for trouble and trying to pick up girls. A bright young lad that gained access to higher education in Oxford, thanks to the high grades obtained in the school of Gawl, where he studied.
While he was studying, he had his first encounter with marijuana, or “Moroccan kif”, to be more precise. In his autobiographical book, “Mr Nice”, he explained how he felt when he had a taste of that thing he would shortly after call “green gold”: “The effect was surprisingly soft but long-lasting. After some minutes I felt a tickling sensation in the stomach, but without the anxiety that usually goes with it. I felt like laughing while at the same time the conversation seemed funny enough to do so. Afterwards I became fully aware of the music I was listening to, “Please, please, please”, by James Brown, as well as the estethic qualities of my immediate surroundings. Every one of these experiences was totally new to me and turned out to be very pleasant. I also felt everything moving in a slower pace. I ended up feeling hungry, like everybody else, so we burst into an Indian food place, a kind of food I was hooked on ever since”.
The Mr Nice nickname is not accidental. Howard Marks took pride in not having ever used violence in his dealings with drug traffickers, in line with his Buddhist faith and its non-violence ideal: “the trick is not letting anybody know that you’re afraid”.
According to what is told in his book, that climbed up to a best seller status, Marks started his smuggler career so he could help a friend of his who had been arrested in Germany. Marks crossed the border with almost 200 kilos of first quality hash for the British consumers. The business went so well that he repeated the same operation hundreds of times. That way, through a series of fortuitous events, Marks became one of the biggest cannabis distributors in the world.
Amongst Marks’ associates, we could find diplomats that introduced the drug in Europe inside their pouches, cult leaders that sought psychedelic revolutions and even Provisional IRA members, like James Mc Cann, depicted in the book as an unstable revolutionary of scatological taste that enabled the entrance of tons of cannabis imported by Marks in the Seventies decade. In Marks’ words: “Mc Cann longed for criminal glamour and it was evident that he thought he would have a better chance of getting money, deceiving and acting maliciously if he became an Irish popular hero”.
Not satisfied with mingling with people as dangerous as IRA members, thanks to an old college friend Marks was recruited to work as an informant for the British Secret Service: “James Bond. Not that I wanted a license to kill, I didn’t want or need anything like that. But I thought I could use it as a sort of license to trafficking with hash. No doubt something like that would come handy. I decided not to tell Mc Cann. M16 was not very popular in Belfast. In fact, I decided not to tell anybody”.
In lots of passages, Marks’ book turns into a sort of “How to become an international drug trafficker” textbook, with lots of details on his operations, who talked to who, how the hash was being introduced in cars’ double bottoms, how Mc Cann made it possible for the hash to land through Shannon airport, how many kilos, how much money and all sorts of details, so you get the impression that he was a man who knew his business well and knew why it was done that way.
But his adventure entered a blocked road when, in the middle of the expansion through North American markets, a ton of his cannabis was seized by police. Hidden amongst the musical instruments of bands like Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd, Marks had been delivering great amounts of his product to the American masses, until he was discovered. Marks managed to escape and hide away, but the justice got hold of him finally in Palma de Mallorca in 1988, where he had retired with his family while his finances never stopped growing and where he had remained a fugitive from British and American justice.
The court convicted him to 25 years in an Oakland prison. He got out after seven years, thanks to his good behaviour and his helping spirit towards the other inmates. Although he didn’t have a very good time in Oakland (he got sick, lost most of his teeth and suffered abuse from the prison officers), that’s where he wrote “Mr Nice”, using the nickname he was known for by his clients because of his kind personality. The origin of said nickname, that he himself created, lies in one of the fake identities he adopted when he got the passport of a man called “Niis”: “That man could pronounce his name however he wanted to. I just knew I had turned into Mr Nice”.
After being released in 1995, Marks devoted himself to writing several books, give speeches and hilarious stand-ups and defending his creed of non-violence, legalization and regulation of Marijuana, while he kept critizicing the legal system, the US prisons and the unrelenting persecution by the authorities and their absurd “War on drugs”: “Obviously, legalization of cannabis for medical reasons is very welcome. But, personally, I would never want to wait until I had cancer to be able to legally have a smoke”.
“I want it to be legalized for recreational use, and I’m pleased to see that four states in the US have done that. After my experience in the hands of USA’s legal system, it’s the last place I thought would lead this cause”, Marks told the Guardian in one of his last interviews.
Dennis Howard Marks died in Leeds in April 10th2016 of a colon cancer. His body left but his memory will live on as long as we remember him, like a rock star, a despicable and charming being. As a gripping read for a seventeen-year-old. As a legend.