Howard Marks interview
Clare Giltrow interviews Britain's most famous drug smuggler/author, July 2001
HOWARD MARKS aka Mr Nice explains why selective enforcement promotes disrespect for the law, and how the illegality of the drug not only contravenes human rights, but also prevents a reduction in the admission of greenhouse gases.
It is 9am on a Saturday morning and I'm sitting in the only café at Luton airport enjoying a coffee with Britain's most notorious drug smuggler before he flies back to his home in Palma.
I don't know about Howard, but I am certainly suffering the effects of my Friday night, and when I relay this to him, he smiles and says: "All I've had this morning is half a joint I left in the ashtray from the night before."
I start to relax, safe in the knowledge he's feeling just as mashed as me, but then again I wouldn't have expected anything less from a man who has turned smoking marijuana into an art form.
But however chilled out he seems, this is a man of extreme intelligence, and a man who has gained top respect for continuing to fight for a cause he believes, even after suffering seven years in Terre Haute Penitentiary, one of America's most infamous prisons.
Howard's theories are sound and as he relates his arguments against the current issues of police selective enforcement towards cannabis users, you wish for once Westminster would stand up and listen.
"There's something very wrong I think about selective enforcement.
"It's OK to have a law that if you break it you get busted, and its OK not to have a law. We all understand that," he says.
"But where it's entirely up to the discretion of the cop, i.e. they can lock you up or they can't depending on how they feel and what else is going down, then it's so open to abuse." He pauses for a sip of coffee before adding: "It promotes a disrespect for law and order that probably wouldn't otherwise be there.
"Every society has to have policemen but when you've got policeman enforcing really silly laws than you are going to have huge problems."
"It makes kids hate the police which is entirely unnecessary. By legalising the drug it would avoid confrontation."
Last month marked London's Cannabis March and Festival. A parade that calls for a global end to the prohibition of cannabis for recreational, medical and industrial use on the basis that the illegality of the drug infringes human rights, preventing the medical uses of the herb and the use of cannabis hemp as an alternative to fossil fuels.
"Of course it contravenes Human Rights, the whole idea that you can't take a naturally occurring substance I just don't understand. I really don't," says Howard. "Society would be safer if cannabis was legalised.
"Not so many people would go to prison, not so many kids would get expelled from schools, kids would not be alienated from their parents, and people wouldn't be fired for smoking the drug.
"Quality would also be better. There would be far less impurities, which would make it safer."
"I am sure we were meant to take drugs because otherwise we wouldn't get stoned," he adds smiling.
"I mean the fact there are all these receptors in the brain all ready to react to these things coming in would suggest some kind of semiotic relationship between animals and drugs that's being going on for several million years."
The medical benefits of marijuana have been widely, though controversially, documented, with many sufferers of serious illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and AIDS, stating that they find relief from their ailments through taking cannabis.
TV doctor Mark Porter said last year he believed cannabis was no more harmful than drinking alcohol or smoking and that given a choice the Watchdog Healthcheck presenter said he would rather see cannabis legalised than alcohol.
The use of cannabis hemp as an alternative to fossil fuels has received less coverage, but it is suggested that the hemp can reverse the greenhouse effect, effectively saving the world from global warming.
Jack Herer, author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, claims, unequivocally, that this plant can save our planet from pollution and desolation, since it has no need of pesticides or chemical fertilisers, and can be grown on the same land year after year.
Replacing petrol and coal as fuel, and replacing trees as a source of paper this plant, cultivated widely, would reverse the greenhouse effect.
The use of cannabis hemp as biomass energy to replace fossil fuels was first recognised in the early 1900's by the likes of engineers such as Henry Ford.
Ford's first Model T was even designed to run on cannabis fuel and most of the bodywork was made out of hemp too.
Steve Pank, member of the Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association (CLCIA), says: "The herb is converted into biomass through a simple process of controlled decomposition called pyrolysis.
The fuel produced can be used to power everything from generators and domestic heating to motor cars and jet planes".
Howard adds: "Not using hemp as an alternative to fossil fuels is a sacrifice that society is making because some hemp can get you stoned. So you can't use the hemp that doesn't get you stoned, because the other bit does get you high, which is obviously a silly sacrifice."
One of the most well known arguments against the legalisation of the drug is the 'Escalation Theory', which suggests cannabis use leads to the use of harder drugs like heroin, Howard disagrees.
"The illegality of marijuana is the only thing that would lead it to heroin use," he says.
"At the moment cannabis is sold in pretty much the same place, and by the same dealers that sell heroin, so it exposes people to harder drugs. "There is nothing about taking cannabis, and enjoying it, that makes you want to take something completely different."
A quick check of his watch makes Howard realise he has to catch his plane.
But before he walks through to the departure lounge he confides his favourite smoke; Nepalese hash, unfortunately, he shrugs, you can only get it in Nepal, which is 24 hours away if you are desperate.
Article © Clare Giltrow 2001.
NOTE: Howard Marks performed at our very own Offline Club night on Brixton, 29th September, 2005.
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