Marijuana VIP: Howard Marks aka Mr Nice

Marijuana VIP: Howard Marks aka Mr Nice
Steven Voser

Howard Marks was a huge proponent of cannabis legalization in the UK. But his status as an influential figure was preceded by lengthy battles against law enforcement around the world.

As an old adage goes, “not all heroes wear capes.” It is a saying that many people attribute to the late but one of the most controversial figures of the cannabis world, Howard Marks. 

“Mr. Nice”, as Marks was notoriously known, was the primary target of drug enforcement agents in the 1970’s for his involvement in large-scale smuggling operations of cannabis into different parts of the world. But while he was deemed to be a menace by law enforcement, Marks was adored as a “true modern-day folk hero” - by many of his supporters, mainly for advocating the legalization of cannabis in the United Kingdom.[1]

Later in his life, Marks was involved in other projects such as acting and music, before succumbing to cancer in 2016 at the age of 70. Today, we look back at the infamous yet beloved figure that is Howard Marks. 


Born on August 13th, 1945 in Wales, Marks did not show any signs of becoming a big-time smuggler until his college years at Oxford University, where he took up nuclear physics and philosophy. It was during this time when he first discovered the magic herb and eventually began providing his close friends and acquaintances. 

His decision to venture into cannabis smuggling began in 1970 when he was to assist Graham Plinston, who at the time was arrested in Germany for drug trafficking. Pretty soon, as his reputation grew, he was able to build a name as one of the biggest smugglers in the game at the time, which evidently brought notice to law enforcement agents. 


Within just two years of beginning operation, Marks was already making a good living out of smuggling cannabis, but he decided to further push the envelope. In 1973, he began expanding operations to the United States by smuggling his shipments via the music equipment of fictional British music groups who were supposedly touring the country. At the time, he was also allegedly working as a spy for Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency. 

Because of the unwanted attention, Marks decided to go incognito. One of the 43 aliases he used was “Mr. Nice”, after buying the passport from convicted murderer Donald Nice. As Marks himself recalled in his 1996 autobiography “Mr. Nice”, he approached the man he referred to as “Don” because he was “in need of a passport that will stand up to checks.”[2]

“It was up to Don how he pronounced his name. But I knew I would pronounce it differently. I was about to become Mr. Nice,” Marks wrote.
The law eventually caught up with Marks in 1988, when he was arrested by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency in Majorca, Spain, along with his wife Judy. The two were subsequently extradited to the United States.

While Judy was eventually released, Howard was sentenced to 25 years in prison, along with a $50,000 fine. 


Marks was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he spent a total of seven years. He was granted parole in January 1995 when an officer attested that he was a “model prisoner”, and was released three months later.

After his release from prison, Marks continued his advocacy for cannabis legalization in the United Kingdom. In 1997, he stood for election at the UK Parliament, mainly to push and bring attention to this one issue.

His efforts did pay off through the formation of the lobby group “Legalise Cannabis Alliance” two years later, which reformed to become the Cannabis Law Reform in 2011. 

By now, the world knew who Howard Marks was and after making a cameo in 1999 independent film “Human Traffic”, his 1996 autobiography was an immediate best-seller and translated into several languages was also turned into a feature film of the same title in 2010.

The movie gave a larger audience a great insight into Marks’ sometimes spectacular adventures as a smuggler, but unfortunately, as with most books and films, it might be that the greatest stories remained untold.

He also published other books, including a sequel to his Mr. Nice autobiography which was entitled “Señor Nice”, as well as a crime novel entitled “Sympathy for the Devil.” Both books were published in 2006 and 2011, respectively. 

During the late 90s Howard also performed a one man show called “An Audience with Mr Nice”, which was basically Howard talking amazing (and funny) stories about his time as a smuggler and about his views on drug use and legalization.

The shows were received well in the UK and continued to sell out in Britain and many other cities in Europe.


Although it was as early as 1998 when for instance he lended his Mr Nice name to his friend Shantibaba, who created the seed bank Mr Nice Seeds, Howard Marks never stopped being passionate about everything related to cannabis and could be seen hanging out with famous breeders and people in the marijuana industry at many events.

Marks carried on with his passion and his advocacy also during his later years, but in 2015 his life took a major left turn when he was diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer.

During an interview that same year, Marks reiterated his staunch support for medical cannabis but at the same time expressed pleasure about the legalization for its recreational use, particularly in the United States.[3]

“Of course the legalizing of marijuana for medical purposes is to be welcomed, but personally I never wanted to have to wait until I had cancer before I could legally smoke,” Marks said. “I want it to be legalized for consuming recreationally – and I’m pleased to see they have now done this in four US states. After my experiences at the hands of the US legal system, America is the last place in the world that I thought would be leading the charge.”

Marks continued to give talks around the world about his advocacy for cannabis while enjoying a status as a pop culture icon of his own right.

Marks met his demise on April 10th, 2016, after battling with the disease for more than a year. And even after some years since his death, “Mr. Nice” is definitely still sorely missed by us and many others.


  1. ^ The Guardian, Mr Nice Howard Marks dies aged 70, retrieved November-05-2018
  2. ^ The Lad Bible, The Fascinating Story Of How Howard Marks Became Known As Mr Nice, retrieved November-05-2018
  3. ^ The Guardian, Howard Marks reveals he has inoperable cancer, retrieved November-05-2018

Steven Voser
Steven Voser

Steven is a long-time veteran of cannabis journalism, having delved into every aspect of the subject. His particular interests lie in cannabis culture, the emerging science of cannabis, and how it is shaping the legal landscape across the globe.