Running for Parliament on the single issue of cannabis legalisation in 1997, Howard Marks electrified the cannabis activism movement in the UK with his mischievous but family-friendly charm. The drug policy reform movement has come a long way in the intervening years, but the debt owed to Marks is still felt far and wide, as the following tributes attest.
No one will ever fill Howard’s boots - he was a one-off. A great friend of Transform and someone who played a unique role in the world of drug policy reform.
I’ll never forget getting very stoned with him in Liverpool when we were supporting Dr John Marks’s (no relation) mad parliamentary election campaign. Now that drug policy reform has become so professionalised, I miss that DIY campaigning that Howard was so good at.
And he had the best comebacks. When Melanie Phillips accused him of going in circles during a debate on the ‘Moral Maze’, Howard riposted: “Well, you’re driving…”
Howard was a poster boy for the ‘Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke’ Brigade and it’s so sad that he passed on before any drugs were legalised in the UK. It didn’t make any difference to his choices, but we both worked to make the world a better place for the millions who couldn’t make the choices he did. RIP Howard, my thoughts are with those he loved and who loved him.
Head of External Affairs, Transform
He was an exquisite loveable rogue, a clever boy from the Valleys, a great brain who fitted in well with Oxford culture. He was a great adventurer who took great risks, but he became a legend because he was like the Scarlet Pimpernel - they could never find him. Later on he did all those sell out shows and people came who would never have thought of smoking of a joint. He was much loved and will be much missed
Veteran cannabis activist, CISTA London mayoral candidate 2016
I didn’t have much in common with Howard Marks. He consumed cannabis, I do not. He smuggled cannabis into the UK, I did not. He went to prison, I did not. He had the entrepreneurial spirit to strike out on his own and risk all to challenge the world, I did not. He was an author, I’m not. He was a journalist, a performer, DJ and a parliamentary candidate several times. Again, I’m not any of those.
Also, I’ve been a Chief Constable so on the face of it it’s reasonable to wonder why I’m writing about Howard Marks at all as we mourn his passing. I spent my career in the police enforcing the drug laws whereas he spent his career breaking them and advocating their abolition.
Well, there are three things we did have in common; we both went to Oxford University, we met each other once and we shared the belief that the prohibition of cannabis is a hugely costly, counter-productive and harmful failure.
I also have to ponder whether his life of “crime” was, in fact, more productive than my life of law enforcement. I’m sure I did more harm than good when it came to the drug law enforcement aspects of my work, whereas he brought a natural substance, cannabis, within reach of many hundreds of thousands of people who have been able to enjoy its benefits in a variety of ways and he inspired, perhaps millions, to challenge these unjust laws.
What little I can do to bring about change is dwarfed by his achievements and the powerful legacy he leaves in his wake.
Thank you, Howard Marks, and rest in peace.
International Drug Policy Adviser, former Chief Constable, Cambridgeshire Police
Everyone who knew Howard Marks knew him for his charm, intelligence and ability to put a smile on the face of so many. The cannabis and hash that he smuggled to UK shores inevitably got the nation stoned. Howard did not only provide haze, laughter and good times, he also provided a lifeline and relief from chronic conditions for thousands of sick people in the UK.
Cannabis is is one of, if not the safest recreational activity that someone could undertake, yet cannabis is also an ancient medicine, used by people for thousands of years.
Howard was our modern medicine man. He took life changing medicine from across the world and made sure it saw its way to UK and other shores. This lead to better access for patients and gave some the opportunity of trying cannabis for the first time, which they otherwise wouldn’t have had. Howard Marks’ life should be celebrated, not just for the so called “crimes” he so artfully committed, or for helping the nation achieve the perfect high, but also for the lives and people he helped alleviate from suffering along the way.
So long Howard, its been more than nice.
Director, United Patients Alliance
I first met Howard in the mid-70’s, not knowing what he did for a living, and we got on well. Both from Wales, both from working backgrounds and off to different Universities, some years apart, where we had both smoked cannabis and eventually became dealers. Howard smuggled tons. I smuggled blims!
In fact, we had been introduced by a mutual friend, one Mr Donald Nice (he pronounced in “niece”). Unbeknown to me, Howard had come to Norwich to get a passport in the name of Donald Nice, and Donald himself had brought Howard to my house to score! But Howard was not called Donald Nice then, he was just Howey.
Years later, I met Howard again (1997) and he remembered the score – it was some good Lebanese hash that he had arranged to be brought into the UK by the ton; and he paid more than what he had sold it for!
It was in 1997 that I went to London along with Jack and Tina Girling, where we asked Howard if he would stand for election to Parliament; he agreed to stand on the single issue of the legalisation of cannabis: just what we wanted.
Howard contested 4 seats in 1997, two of them in Norwich. I had the honour of getting to know him better as I escorted him around the city, introducing him to smokers, campaigners, businesses and clubs. It was then that I read Mr Nice, which starts with Howard driving up to the city.
Howard gained about 1.5% of the vote in Norwich.
Not a lot maybe, but I believe it inspired the Independent on Sunday Decriminalise Cannabis campaign, rally and conference, which in turn led to the London cannabis rallies and marches. In 1999, inspired by Howard’s election campaign, Jack Girling and I formed the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (LCA), registered it as a political party and enabled over 83 candidates to stand in elections.
I attribute all that to Howard’s election contests.
Since then I had the honour to meet Howard several times, at conferences and at gigs. What amazed me was how he remembered everyone’s names when he met the Norwich campaigners again (there were many dozens of them).
The last time we met was on the Pirate Radio anniversary cruise from Tilbury to Amsterdam in August 2014. He was in high spirits, as usual, but not in the best of health: we shared a few beers and a few moans that there was nowhere on board we felt relaxed enough to have a puff.
The world has lost a great soul, and I say that even wondering if Howard would agree.
Until we meet again, my friend.
Cannabis activist, founder of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance