Mick Marlow is in prison for writing a book that was ordered to be burnt. Sam Beale reports on the madness of our times and the reason of Mr and Mrs Marlow.
Squall 13, Summer 1996, pp. 36-37.
Maria Warner (say it quickly out loud) is the pseudonym used by Michael Marlow for the publication of his book on cannabis cultivation, Tricameral Sinsemilla. The book’s dedication, from Mick and his partner Ange to their five year old grandaughter, reads: For Jenna, may your times be sane and simple.
This is a fine and apposite blessing considering how unnecessarily complicated and insane the times of Mick Marlow and his family have become since the book’s publication on St Patrick’s day, 1994.
Mick is currently serving a 12 month prison sentence because he wrote a gardening book. The madness which led to this situation is the law surrounding the cultivation and use of the plant he was writing about. It’s a madness which knows no bounds: as well as imprisoning a writer for writing, the court banned the book and ordered all remaining copies to be burnt. An appeal to reverse this decision is pending.
Mick is 52, a father and grandfather twice over. He and his wife Ange live in a beautiful spot on the edge of the Forest of Dean in a cottage they have shared for 22 years.
Early on October 6 1994 the police raided their home, confiscated 500 copies of Tricameral Sinsemilla along with his customer database, a copyright version of his next book “Simple Sinesmilla”, discs, a number of cannabis plants and some growing equipment. Mick was arrested for production of, possession of, and incitement to others to grow marijuana.
The possession and production charges are fairly standard - standardly outrageous. Incitement is something else.
There are a vast number of books available on marijuana cultivation and consumption. Most of these differ to Mick’s in that they usually contain a disclaimer to legally cover the author; most commonly suggesting they have been written just for fun and are intended to be read as such. Mick and Ange feel strongly that the cannabis debate (or the lack of one) is way beyond this. Too many people are serving time in already overburdened prisons because they grow or consume this plant for the issue to be dismissed as fun any more.
"There's no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle."
Mick is clear that “what seems to have upset the justices is the fact that I didn’t include a disclaimer because I thought it was hypocritical.” A disclaimer is not, per se, a legal requirement but as Mick understands it: “Unless you say ‘don’t break the law’ you are, in the eyes of the law, encouraging people to break it.” Instead Mick wrote a non-disclaimer, a statement of intent.
Mick Marlow undoubtedly wrote a book which the law considers to be incitement. However the reasons for the control of cannabis remain highly questionable and Mick’s incarceration is beyond belief. The fact that in the1990s a UK judge could order his work be burnt is so grotesquely reminiscent of both Iran’s internationally condemned response to Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and the treatment of intellectuals and their work in pre-war Nazi Germany that it requires no further comment here.
The book covers far more than his growing technique, dealing with the usefulness of the plant medicinally (in the treatment of MS, cancer, glaucoma) and the sustainable options offered by cannabis cultivation and the manufacture of hemp products.
Following his arrest there was an 18 month wait for the trial. “It was awful,” recalls Ange: “After they raided the place I don’t think Mick ever went in the growing room again. They left such a terrible mess he just couldn’t face it.”
At this time Mick was suffering regular and severe palpitations as a result of a heart condition which began when he collapsed on the day the book was published. The drugs he was prescribed for this condition, the beta-blockers Sotalol, caused depression (Mick is now addicted to the antidepressant Seroxat which were prescribed to counter the effects of Sotalol) which increased considerably following the police raid: “He couldn’t motivate himself at all. I think it was a combination of the pills he was on, what the police had done to him and the fact that he realised he was going to be imprisoned for writing.”
The stress which led to Mick’s heart condition developed over the Marlows’ three-year long attempt to have the book published.
Following countless refusals to print the book unless it included a disclaimer and one publisher attempting to steal the manuscript, “in the end”, says Ange “we decided to publish ourselves... We only had £1500 to put into the book - we needed that for a new van, ours was always breaking down - but we took a gamble that the book would sell. It paid off. We had 120 orders upfront. We printed 1000 copies.”
The book describes Mick’s own ‘Tricameral’ (three chamber) method of cultivation: “it’s basically a rotational method of growing which allows you to harvest fresh cannabis every two weeks,” explains Mick, grinning.
Making her weekly journey for a “just long enough to recharge each other” three-hour visit with Mick at the private prison, Ange explains her outrage: “Mick and I have been together since 1969. For them to do this: I just don’t believe it half the time.” During the visit Ange updates Mick with news about this and that from home and abroad. They gently nag each other about their respective illnesses and smile, familiar and precious prison-visit smiles. They have the air of a couple fired up together against all the odds.
On the morning Mick was due to appear in court for sentencing the Marlows were raided again because their son, Tam, was arrested for possession. This was not a good omen: Judge Mott, presiding at Worcester Crown Court, undoubtedly heard that Mick was not able to appear as he was being held for questioning at the local nick with the rest of his family. Initially, Mott unsuccessfully attempted to have Mick’s case heard in closed court because of his concern that people might learn how to grow cannabis during the course of the trial. Well it’s like this M’Lud: first you get this seed and then you plant it...
In what seems to be the crux of the case Mott also refused to allow key evidence the defence intended to use: about 20 other publications on cannabis cultivation (most having been on public sale for over 20 years), the defence argument being that Mick’s book was essentially no different from any of these. At the trial Judge Mott declared these books inadmissible evidence and the defence’s case effectively collapsed.
The courts also objected to a request Mick included in his final chapter for people to write giving their opinions about cannabis laws and cultivation. Ange recalls: ‘This was interpreted to mean that he just wanted to learn about how people were getting on with their growing. That wasn’t the point at all. ” Mick was in fact trying to open up the cannabis debate and provide a forum for honest discussion: “I wanted to set up a cannabis journal, a quality periodical, to show that we can do it, we’re not just doped out hippies: far from it.” He believes the sociopolitical analysis of the suppression of cannabis cultivation in his book and the well-reasoned suggestions he offers for moving towards decriminalisation were too close to the corporate bone. As Mick says “there’s no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle. ”
Finally Mick was sentenced to 12 months for incitement and 12 months for production to run concurrently. He was not surprised by this decision: “As far as the law goes I’ve always been a fatalist because I’ve never had a good result, so I anticipated the worst.”
His biggest worry was how Ange, an insulin-dependent diabetic, would cope without him. Ange has surprised herself: “It has made me a hundred times stronger. I expected to go into the depths of gloom but it hasn’t happened. I just keep positive. I feel they can throw what they like at us and it doesn’t seem to make any difference. We’ll just keep fighting on.”
She shares Mick’s desire for an open debate: “Unless people can actually talk about it how are we to find out how many people use it and what benefit it is or even what harm it might do? It’s used medicinally by so many people now, there is a very fine line between medicinal and recreational use because stress factors are generally so high. ”
Since Mick’s conviction she has spoken to, “a number of people who have experience dealing with this issue who believe in legalisation: police and doctors. They should be allowed to say something”. Ange believes: “People are frightened to speak, and if the Government can stop people talking about it then somehow it doesn’t exist.”
Mick’s comment on his imprisonment is characteristically sharp: “What a place to put someone who’s been done for incitement: in with a load of inciteable people.” But beneath the joke and the initial outrage there are some serious questions to be asked about this case.
Tricameral Sinsemilla is likely to serve as a rather too convenient test case. Similar prosecutions brought against writers and publishers under the old obscenity laws have regularly failed. A precedent in the form of a conviction is just what is needed in order, some have said, to bear down on other pro-legalisation publications. This makes Mick’s pending appeal important in terms of freedom of information. If he loses, not only will the remaining copies of his book in this country be burnt, but the same insanity could be repeated with even less difficulty.
What seems clear enough is that Mick’s imprisonment has little to do with the subject matter of his book and rather more to do with his honesty. But as Ange stresses: “He does not want to be seen as hero, he just wants people to be able to use this plant as they want to.”
Many agree: the Marlows have received letters of support from all over the world and it has recently been confirmed that in June the book is to be published in Dutch and English in Amsterdam. French, German, Spanish and Italian versions are also planned. “For the last 18 months I’ve just been standing still. This news has made all the difference,” says Mick, “there’s a future now, something to work for.”
After his release he and Ange will probably move abroad. Mick sees his case as indicative of “the democratic malaise” in this country: “The ship is sinking and this rat wants off. But only because I can’t work here. If that little stretch of water makes the difference I’ll cross it. I can still hit the internet, I can still write articles and get published.” Ange agrees: “I’ve never been out of this country. I love Britain, I love the hills and the greenery and the seasons so I’ll regret leaving but I won’t regret the reasons. Coming to the age we are, I’d rather we left than keep on looking over our shoulders and still not be allowed to give our opinions. Maybe the children will move with us.” Mick believes that a paradigm shift is required to create a situation whereby, amongst other things, the decriminalisation of cannabis is possible. He does not want to be the focus of such a shift. He wants people to make the change themselves and, most immediately, he wants to take part in an intelligent and realistic debate about this plant and the possibilities offered by its cultivation. His imprisonment has stirred the debate but it looks as though he will have to leave this country to continue it without being shafted by British law. Our loss.
Mick welcomes correspondence:
MK 2057, HMP Blackenhurst, Hewell Lane, Redditch, Worcester BN7 6QS Copies of Tricameral Sinsemilla will be available in June from: Adriaan Bronkhorst, Drugs Peace Institute, Peace House, Spuistraat, nr. 2, Amsterdam 155563, 10001 Holland.
Maria would like to point out that it is a criminal offence to import copies of this book to the UK.
Stop Press: Ange has recently been charged with cannabis production (following a questionable police raid on the house after Tam’s arrest). The Marlows have also received a letter from their landlord’s solicitor requesting that they vacate their home. No reason was given. Needless to say they will not leave without a fight.
Maria Warner’s ‘non-disclaimer’
Almost without exception, books about cannabis start with a written disclaimer that they are providing people with the knowledge necessary to break the law by growing it. They assert that their efforts to describe indetail every aspect of cannabis culture, cultivation, genetics and plant breeding up to science degree level is intended to be merely novel or amusing.
For whatever protection the author might feel has been granted by the insertion of a disclaimer, the use of such detraction is irresponsible and the public perception of cannabis remains wrong-headed by its inclusion. It implies that the book has been magically absolved of any suggestion that it could encourage criminality and that the information therein has been rendered safe by this gesture. Such daftness must surely contribute in its own small way to the continuing illegality of cannabis for social use.
Whilst having no personal wish to deceive, and though the name Maria Warner is totally apposite to the nature of my book, it is of course, a pseudonym. Upon the reinstatement of public cannabis cultivation, possession and supply, I will gladly claim authorship in my own name. Though I and most cannabis users in my experience would be the first to stand for ‘morally just’ causes and ethical concerns, I have no disclaimer to enter. I trust that this book will reveal the reasons for its omission, also why the nonsensical, archaic laws forbidding free cannabis use should be roundly condemned by all, especially by those who write on the subject.
Whether you use this or any other guide to break the law by growing cannabis is completely irrelevant - Tricameral Sinsemilla provides a much better reason for those who would take the risk and offers at the same time, a realistic proposal for cannabis legalization in both social and industrial use.
Maria Warner, April 1991