Howard Marks died peacefully in his sleep on April 10th 2016, at his home in Leeds, surrounded by his four children. He was 70. Sensi Seeds remembers this extraordinary writer, campaigner, raconteur, and cannabis smuggler – a counterculture legend who was charming and funny to the end.
Howard Marks was a legend among cannabis lovers the world over. The team at Sensi Seeds, to whom Howard Marks was a dear friend, especially loved his presence around Amsterdam and Sensi Seeds.
As a good friend of Ben Dronkers, Sensi Seeds’ founder, Marks visited the Sensi Seeds store in Amsterdam on many occasions. To honour his life and his legacy, we have put together this celebrity profile along with the personal stories of the Sensi Seeds staff who knew him so well.
Who was Howard Marks?
Born: 13 August 1945, Kenfig Hill, UK
Died: 10 April 2016, Leeds, UK
Things you should know about Howard Marks
Though Howard Marks’ life was truly remarkable, the best stories come from the people who knew the man. His biography is one of the most exciting and thrilling life stories, but the heartfelt stories of the people who knew Marks show the softer side of Mr Nice — something sometimes obscured by his promiscuous life as an international hash smuggler.
Howard Marks biography
In his early life, Marks was an academic. He studied physics at Balliol College, Oxford between 1964 and 1967. It was during this time that he was first introduced to cannabis. In 1967 he began teacher training at St Anne’s College, Oxford. He gave up teacher training and continued his education at the University of London until 1968, then continued further study at Balliol College until 1969. Between 1969 and 1970, he went to the University of Sussex to study the philosophy of science.
When Marks first started selling hash, he was only selling cannabis to close friends or acquaintances. But in 1970, he was persuaded to help Graham Plinston in bigger scale drug trafficking. During this time, Marks was introduced to Mohammed Durrani, a Pakistani hashish trafficker who offered him the chance to sell cannabis on a large scale in London. Mark’s hash trafficking empire continued to grow, and before long he was trafficking cannabis all over Europe.
In 1973, Marks’ first arrest occurred from the Dutch police. He chose to skip bail, and spent the next few years on the run from the authorities.
After returning to the UK in secret, Mark began importing hashish from Nepal, one of the world’s biggest hash-producing nations. With the help of the Yakuza, he spent the years between 1975 and 1978 shipping a total of 55,000 pounds of marijuana through John F. Kennedy airport. All matter of people were involved in this operation, including the Mafia, the Yakuza, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the Thai army and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Marks avoided a drug-trafficking charge in the late 70s, where he pleaded “not guilty” to trafficking. However, the jury found him guilty of using fake passports, and he was sentenced to two years in prison.
Marks’ hash smuggling adventures went on after his release, and eventually, in 1990 he was charged for all kinds of drug trafficking offences. His wife at the time (with whom he had three children) was also implicated in those charges. He was sentenced to 25 years in jail and was given a $50,000 fine. In January 1995, Marks was granted parole for his good behaviour as a model prisoner. He was released in April 1995.
After his release from prison, he published his autobiography, Mr Nice in 1996. It has been translated into several languages.
On January 2015, it was announced to the world that Marks had colorectal cancer. He died of the disease on 10 April 2016 at the age of 70.
And now, he’s left the stage
As a close friend of founder Ben Dronkers, and a big fan of Amsterdam, he visited there on a regular basis. When the book Mr Nice was published, Ben was so enthusiastic about this epic tale of his friend’s adventures and misadventures that he ordered multiple copies in every language. Sensi Seeds may well have had the only shops in Amsterdam where it was possible to purchase the book in Hindi.
One of Sensi Seeds’ most potent, pungent and popular strains, the legendary G13 x Hash Plant, is named Mr Nice in his honour. He donated his prison ID card to the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, where it is proudly displayed to this day. In 2014, he received a Cannabis Culture Award for his lifelong dedication to cannabis.
Howard Marks: Drug story kingpin
But upon hearing of his death, it is not the milestones of his unquestionably remarkable life that come to mind. It is the stories. The ones he told came from a seemingly inexhaustible supply (some of them are detailed in the Howard Marks Book of Drug Stories). He was a skilled and charming raconteur. He loved a good punchline, a twist in the tale.
Having repeatedly stated right up until 2015 that he had only ever smuggled cannabis, he then wrote Mr Smiley: My Last Pill and Testament, which opens with him smuggling MDMA (for personal use) through an airport in 1996. By this time, news of his diagnosis with terminal bowel cancer had been released. It is typical of his humour that he would twist a pun, a confession, and a gentle mockery of death out of the title of his last book.
Hello, old friend
Sensi Seeds’ very own Scarlet writes her own story of encounters with Howard Marks. The stories from those who met Howard Marks are the best kinds of biography. In these stories, it is clear that Howard Marks made his way around the world with an enormous heart and a great sense of humour. In the spirit of remembering more than just his drug trafficking shenanigans, we share this personal story from Scarlet herself.
“I – and I must break the fourth wall for this part, so please forgive me – first met Howard Marks at the Cannabis Cup Celebrity Dinner in 1999, back when the Cannabis Cup still had celebrity dinners. So high that I was quite bewildered by the proceedings, I was queuing for the buffet when I recognised the man queuing beside me from somewhere, which was true of almost everyone in the room at that point. He smiled at me in a familiar way.
As I had been doing for most of the evening, I gave him a big smile back, said hello, and asked him how he was doing, since I hadn’t seen him for ages. (In my mind, there was something different about his appearance. Perhaps he had had a haircut? Or not had a haircut for some time, which seemed more likely.) He was well, he replied, and yes, it had been a while.
We continued to chat and pile food onto our plates, in the manner of the THC-enhanced confronted with a free buffet, until we were interrupted by one of the servers basically telling off my friend for taking too many tiger prawns. Unabashed, he turned a massive, beaming smile on her.
We began food negotiations. Could he have my share of prawns, since I didn’t want them, we asked her? If he saved up five grilled mushrooms, could he swap them for an extra prawn? What if the prawns had danced their way onto his plate of their own accord, as so often happens?
At some point in this increasingly silly and giggly exchange, I finally realised why he looked really-familiar-yet-different. It was because he was in colour, not black and white, and because he wasn’t on the cover of a book. I was brokering prawns for Mr Nice. I had inadvertently given him the impression that we were old friends. And he had gone with it.
We continued to meet at two or three cannabis events a year from then on, and continued to greet each other as old friends. Truth be told, I was too embarrassed to admit what had happened the first time, and the more time passed, the less important it seemed.
It wasn’t until the very last time I saw him, at the Cannabis Culture Awards in 2014, that I finally told him. To my astonishment, he recalled our initial meeting, and burst into the remains of his big warm raspy laugh. “I remember. That’s so funny, I was sure I must know you from somewhere, you were so sure you knew me.”
The Cannabis Culture Awards that year were held in the Hemp Gallery, just down the canal from the museum. Marc and Jodie Emery were the other recipients of this annual prize. They had managed to fly in from Canada without problems. Howard, however, was refused permission to board a flight from Leeds.
With an eye on the clock, as the ceremony was tightly scheduled to dovetail with the Cannabis Cup that evening, Ben Dronkers scrambled the cannabis equivalent of the A-Team. Howard was driven to Manchester airport, boarded a swiftly rented plane, and flew to Amsterdam in time to make a typically charismatic entrance to a standing ovation. News of his illness was not yet public knowledge, but his distinctive mop of hair was gone, and there was a fragility to him that had never previously impeded his vigour. Despite this, he requested a brandy, rolled a joint, and then spoke with his hallmark wit, consideration and wisdom to a rapt audience.
His generosity was also unstinted. Ben presented him with a portrait by the artist and DJ Goldie, created in 2010 as part of The Mr Nice Project; Howard thanked him warmly and immediately donated it to the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum so it could be seen by more people than would pass through his flat in Leeds.
Afterwards he made time for everyone who wanted a brief chat, a photo, a handshake. Rather than remaining in Amsterdam he flew back to England; his priority was to spend time with his family rather than bask in the glow of his impact on the world of cannabis.”
“I don’t have any regrets”
That he had an impact is undeniable. He did more to cement the image of cannabis smuggler as loveable charmer than anyone else in counterculture, although both he and his family suffered dreadfully as a result of his activities. Despite this, he never seemed bitter. In an interview with The Guardian from January 2015, as the news of his condition broke, he said, “It’s impossible to regret any part of my life when I feel happy and I am happy now, so I don’t have any regrets and have not had any for a very long time.”
Howard will be sorely, deeply missed by the global cannabis community. He will always be remembered as Mr Nice — and there’s nobody else worthier of this name.
A documentary on the life of Howard Marks can be watched online, and is called The Real Mr Nice. You can watch the trailer here:
In 2010, a movie was also made about the life of Howard Marks. It is appropriately called “Mr. Nice”, and tells the funny, exciting, and thrilling story of Howard Marks’ life.