High Times Greats: Howard Marks
By the mid-’80s, the Welsh-born, Oxford-educated Howard Marks (1945-2016) was an “egghead of the underworld.” With a total of 43 aliases, 89 phone lines and 25 companies trading worldwide, Howard Marks was the dope dealer’s dope dealer.
At the peak of his trafficking, he was smuggling consignments of up to 30 tons from Pakistan and Thailand to the US and Canada. Following many years of evading capture despite stringent monitoring by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Howard Marks was finally arrested and sentenced to 25 years at Indiana’s Terre Haute, the site of America’s only federal death row.
Since his release on parole in April 1995, having served seven years of his sentence, Howard Marks embarked on a new careen as a writer and journalist His. 1996 autobiography, Mr. Nice, remains on the international best-seller lists. In conjunction with the anniversary of Howard Marks’ death on April 10, we’re republishing the March, 2008 High Times interview with Matthew Hirtes below.
Howard Marks and Matthew Hirtes Interview
Your old university friend Dr. John Nicholson mentions visiting your cottage outside Oxford one Friday evening with, and I quote, “the lady I was then living with, for dinner, and eventually got back home into town to discover that it wasn’t, as I thought, Saturday morning, it was Tuesday morning.” How typical an occurrence was that?
Howard Marks: Fairly common, I suppose.
Were you one of the 3,000 people holding a smoke-in in Hyde Park in 1967?
Howard Marks: Yes, I was at that demonstration. Although I don’t recall that much about it, apart from tying joints to balloons and letting them go when the cops came.
What do you recall of your interactions with MI5 and MI6? You’ve said that labeling them “intelligence” agencies is a bit of an exaggeration.
Howard Marks: I didn’t have anything to do with MI5—it was MI6, and even then I didn’t meet very many of their people. I wouldn’t necessarily say they were stupid, just that their choice of career was.
If it wasn’t for your friend Hamilton Macmillan’s proposal to inform for MI6 by opening further boutiques abroad [Marks already used one to cover his drug profits in Oxford], could you imagine expanding your operations as much as you did?
Howard Marks: I don’t think it had a great effect. It gave me some front. And it was easier to explain to a jury afterwards that I was actually working for MI6.
There are a couple of films planned about the Brotherhood of Love. What are your memories of your involvement in this movement?
Howard Marks: Just that we used to import dope they sold to us. They were well known in the acid-distribution market. However, they also dealt in cannabis.
Rolling Stone dubbed the Brotherhood “the Hippie Mafia,” while Timothy Leary said: “The whole concept of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is like a bogeyman invented by the narcs. The brotherhood was about eight surfer kids from Southern California, Laguna Beach.” Who’s closer in their description?
Howard Marks: I’ve got to go with Rolling Stone. A “Hippie Mafia” is not a bad description, although they never resorted to intimidation—not to my knowledge, anyway.
When Timothy Leary died, he was largely sanctified—a CBS News reporter related that “the last words of the man who spent a lifetime asking questions were, ‘Why not?'” But since then, more unflattering reports have been published—Leary advocating sharing acid with kids as young as seven, informing on friends to cop a lighter sentence in Afghanistan, etc. What’s your take on all this?
Howard Marks: I was never a big fan, to tell you the truth. Having said that, I was moved by The Psychedelic Experience. It was totally new—there had never been anything like it before. However, I’d gone off him completely when he started spouting his “Turn on, tune in, drop out” mantra.
The DEA agent who busted you, Craig Lovato, talked in terms of “millions of dollars of profit for Howard Marks.” Now, has our Mr. Lovato got a head for figures, or not?
Howard Marks: There was a lot of profit—I can’t deny that. But what Lovato did was blow it out of all proportion and claim I was the only one making any money. It was shared by a number of people. Yes, it did amount to millions, but no, it wasn’t just me profiting from the deals.
Lovato also claimed you’d created “an aura” that you were “untouchable.” And your ex-wife Judy says, while she had fears about being arrested, you were confident of avoiding capture. Now where did this feeling of invincibility come from?
Howard Marks: I suppose doing things and getting away with them for so long made me think I was invulnerable. That confidence must have manifested itself in my personality. Yet I always get nervous doing anything in public these days.
You used to play classical records down the phone when you were being bugged. Wouldn’t Metal Machine Music or even Trout Mask Replica have been better irritants?
Howard Marks: The DEA claimed that, but I didn’t know they where tapping me at the time. If they’re going to eavesdrop, they can’t expect to be able to control the listening experience, can they? The classical music was on in the background at times, that’s all.
If it wasn’t for President Marcos’ fall in the Philippines, would you have escaped jail, in that your associate Lord Moynihan wouldn’t have needed to have shopped you?
Howard Marks: I don’t think his role was that major. He was seized on by the media as if he was the character they needed for their play. He was high-profile—a lord. But the information he provided the authorities was pretty circumstantial.
You were imprisoned in Terre Haute, a notorious prison. Clearly, you were being made an example of.
Howard Marks: Yes, I was.
How did you feel when Richard Stratton tried to rebrand High Times as an aggressively left-wing magazine rather than one focusing on the cannabis counterculture?
Howard Marks: I could see nothing suspicious with his reasoning at the time, although it hardly turned out to be a successful move. He was trying to keep the magazine alive by broadening its subject matter.
You claim to roll a joint in under a minute, so what advice would you give me regarding technique?
Howard Marks: I still roll them pretty quickly, but not quite that fast. My advice to you is invest in some king-size papers.
You mentioned before that you think Rhys Ifans would be the perfect choice to play you in a film. What’s stopping such a movie being made?
Howard Marks: We did raise the possibility with each other, ooh, about 10 years ago. The BBC hold the rights, though, so they’ll probably wait until I die before making it.
In the ’90s, you were smoking between 20 and 30 joints a day. What’s your consumption like this side of the new millennium?
Howard Marks: About 20, I reckon. If left to my own devices. At home, with nobody bothering me.
Seeing as you’re related to the likes of Henry Morgan, William Owen and Patrick McCarty, do you side with nature or nurture regarding the shaping of an individual?
Howard Marks: I can’t boast of any relationship with Henry Morgan, I’m afraid, much as I’d love to. It’s probably a combination of both, with nurture having rather more of an influence.
In your latest book, Mr. Nice, you dedicate a lot of time to drug legislation. In a nutshell, are you a complete libertarian?
Howard Marks: Yes, pretty much. The only place where I’d draw the line would be with the harming of other people.
How much involvement do you have with the seeds you sell on your site?
Howard Marks: Other than lending one of my aliases to it, nothing really. Of course, the free samples are an obvious perk.
Your petition to legalize cannabis in the UK currently stands just short of 4,000 signatures. What figure do you have in mind reaching before presenting it?
Howard Marks: I don’t know really. The aim is to encourage as many people to demonstrate their support. I’m drawing attention to the issue above anything else.
And is the “Sow the Seed” campaign still in full swing?
Howard Marks: That’s diminished somewhat, sadly. It probably needs rekindling—perhaps on your pages.
How far did your application to become Tony Blair’s Drug Czar go?
Howard Marks: Let’s put it this way: I wasn’t invited for an interview. I did, though, receive a reply which informed me that I was free to apply for any future Cabinet Office position.
Hash fudge or hash cookies?
Howard Marks: Cookies, I think, for me. I like the crunch.
What’s the greater cause of middle-age spread: beer or succumbing to the munchies?
Howard Marks: Probably beer. With the munchies a close second.
What do you think about developments in the global drug business? What fresh challenges does the modern-day importer/exporter face?
Howard Marks: They need to possess a knowledge of gardening.
You’ve recently been championing the virtues of reindeer urine. Is such consumption really the future of toking without smoking?
Howard Marks: It could easily be part of it, and it’s legal. I tried it after some Norwegian fans of mine invited me, following a show in Oslo. Taking it induced a similar sensation to tripping on Ecstasy.