Nice if you can get it

A legal marijuana tasting in Barcelona serves as the stage for the Spanish launch of 'Mr.Nice,' a biopic of former drug smuggler Howard Marks

Toni García
Howard Marks, known as Mr Nice, puffs on a joint.
Howard Marks, known as Mr Nice, puffs on a joint.EFE

The ways of the press can be inscrutable - so much so that one day you can receive an email inviting you to "a legal marijuana tasting." It triggers visions of big spliffs and gonzo-style reports in which the journalist tells of the fateful moment he got carried away at a cannabis orgy.

So you get accreditation, get dressed for the occasion and prepare for the best (or worst). But, as always happens in the world of journalism, it's all an illusion. The visions are already fading as you head to to be greeted with a 45-minute press conference full of noble speeches about the goodness of marijuana.

The speakers are a lawyer, an expert on the topic, an ex-marijuana trafficker and the mayor of Rasquera, the Spanish town of 950 inhabitants that plans to transform its crops into a big field of legal weed. All of them are very aware, warning about the capitalist direction the planet has taken, and clamoring for the legalization of a drug that 17 US states have already approved for treating cancer patients.

What was strange, though, was that after 45 minutes of talking nobody had said anything about the film that, in theory, was the excuse for the whole show.

Starring Rhys Ifans and David Thewlis, Mr. Nice is a biopic about Howard Marks, the biggest marijuana trafficker in history, based on his book of the same name. After getting caught, he was put in prison for seven years and came out transformed into a marijuana advocate.

On Tuesday morning in La María Club on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Marks indeed looked nice, distracted and with no idea of what was being said, beyond what his translator was blowing in his ear. "I've been a friend of Rhys Ifans for 16 years. I like it that he was the star," he responded to one question.

Afterwards, the tasting - except it wasn't. The event comprised of smelling different types of marijuana and guessing what ingredients each one contained, and whether it was acidic, spicy or sweet.

"What about the joints?" asked one journalist.

"Ah, do you want one?" answered the organizers.

"If you do, you have to become a member of the club. If not, nothing."

Instead there would be interviews. "Well, I don't know if they are going to legalize marijuana one day," says Marks.

"I have spent 50 years making mistakes so my opinion doesn't have any foundation."

He admits he still smokes weed every day and that Spain is "very tolerant": "They should follow its example in Britain."

Meanwhile, Rasquera Mayor Bernat Pellicer sits on a sofa with a "what am I doing here?" look that immediately becomes a "I know what I'm doing here" look ahead of explaining what is happening in his town, which, having decided to give over its land to growing marijuana, has encountered all sorts of obstacles from an important enemy: "the Spanish state."

"It's incredible what's going on: yesterday a TV crew from Tokyo came to the town to see with its own eyes what was going on," he says. "I think we have already won the moral war."

In the end, the journalist gets his membership card, shows it and approaches an advisor. The big smoking session seems close. But no. Half an hour later no one has lit up anything. Journalism isn't what it was. Neither is cinema. By the way, Mr. Nice is out on Friday, and in the film, at least, they smoke.

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