Tonight the UKâs smoking ban has been over-turned; it doesnât exist – in one certain Greenwich venue, at least.
That is, so long as itâs cannabis that youâre smoking.
While the audience is more than open to the possibility from the outset, it is in fact the compare who starts things off, lighting up on stage, then passing the joint to an audience member, and setting off a controlled sparking of spliffs around the room, which continues throughout the two-part show.
I am sat in the back row and the group I am with smoke freely. We arenât in the back row with the intention of being naught, just in the back row because by the time we’d faffed around figuring out the middle section was the only place to be to avoid staring at a pole, the middle back row is the only one left.
Tonight we are enjoying an evening with Howard Marks, perhaps the UKâs most notorious, but also most loved, criminal, who made millions smuggling tons of cannabis and resin around the world, largely unpunished.
Mr Nice, as Marks is dubbed, is not the type of person you would imagine a drug dealer to be like. Not only is he an Oxford University graduate, but he is incredibly well-spoken, highly intelligent and charismatic.
During the 1980s, the peak of Howard Marksâ âcareerâ, he operated under 43 aliases, using 89 phone lines and 25 different companies around the world, and smuggled consignments of up to 30 tons of cannabis at a time from Pakistan and Thailand to America and Canada.
Whenever he was caught by the authorities, Marks was able to spin great tales, that included claims he was an MI6 spy and his cannabis smuggling was a government-sanctioned way to get closer to arms dealers. He escaped conviction every time. Until, eventually he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in 1988 â of which he served just seven. Upon his release he embarked on the writing and speaking phase of his career, that we are here partaking of tonight.
âI donât want to get up here and brag, but we imported the best quality hash. It didnât occur to us to bring in shite,â Marks says.
âBut itâs nowhere near as strong as the skunk you smoke these days â so, respect.â
He adds: âThe strongest skunk I ever smoked was in Coventry, by the way. I donât know how that happened.â
Having come so close to jail so many times, Marks made it his business to study the cannabis-related laws in all countries, in order to pick the best places from which to operate his illegal trade.
âSwitzerland is a funny countryâ he says.
âIt’s illegal to consume dope; but it says nothing about growing it…
âSo I found myself an alp and I covered it with plants.â
And then he showed us a slideshow of pictures, backed by Elvis’s âlast ever recordingâ of âThe Green, Green Grass of Homeâ.
While there are a few pauses and lost places tonight, and a lot of tangents explored, for all the scare-mongering employed these days about the effects of long-term cannabis use, Howard Marks is still lucid and articulate, even though he is stoned throughout.
âI would never insult you by coming onto this stage straight,â he says.
âI’m absolutely wankered.â
As is most of the audience, by this point.