Drug smuggler Marks stands for Parliament in grass roots campaign

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AS THE election campaign gets under way, one would-be MP flies into Britain tomorrow to finalise his plans.

Many prospective parliamentary candidates might fear the danger of the skeleton in the closet. The sleaze factor, however, is of no consequence to this man. Indeed, he is so confident he is even contemplating standing in two constituencies at the same time.

For Howard Marks, an Oxford graduate who was once one of the world's most wanted drugs smugglers and now lives and writes in Majorca, has had most of the bones of his existence already gnawed clean of every juicy morsel.

His trafficking in 50-tonne consignments of hashish eventually led to his arrest in 1988 followed by seven years in an American jail.

So when he makes his election address to the citizens of Tory-held Norwich North, a marginal seat, his platform of legalising cannabis will be no surprise. He gives the usual reasons for legalisation: civil liberty and pragmatism. And he fears no hassle during the election campaign from the police, many of whom regard tackling cannabis sales as an unnecessary distraction from much bigger concerns.

Mr Marks has already met some of his prospective constituents and proved, he claims, a major success in a couple of pubs and with the students of the University of East Anglia. "They were very enthusiastic, particularly at the university."

He is now considering the election double of standing in Norwich South as well, so long as the pounds 500 deposit is paid and he can find enough proposers. He is being backed by the Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International which is based in the city.

"I wouldn't do it unless everyone in Norwich North approved it. But as it's much more an awareness campaign than a bid for power then it makes sense," he said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said you were allowed to stand in more than one constituency as a candidate, but could only take one seat in the House.

"There would have to be a by-election in the other constituency. It was quite frequent practice in the 19th century. Gladstone did it. But it hasn't really been done much since the beginning of the century."

Whatever happens, his mainstream political rivals probably have little to fear. He has no real intention of taking up a seat in Parliament.

In the event of victory, he said he would "probably smoke a huge one and resign, the point having been made". Any reasonable-sized celebration might delay the resignation speech by a few days, however.