NORFOLK - America has been fighting a domestic Vietnam for 34 years in its war on drugs, a former police officer says.
He argues the government should cut its losses and take control of the industry by legalizing drugs.
"About 200,000 Americans have died in this war," Howard J. Wooldridge told a group of Rotarians on Monday.
"This is a failure on all levels."
Wooldridge worked as a police officer for 18 years, spending time in three departments near Lansing, Mich.
When he left after his wife's job transfer to the Dallas area, he said, he wanted to continue to affect people's lives. So he began his crusade to legalize drugs.
Wooldridge joined LEAP - Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
He said the Internet-based group has about 1,000 members, all of whom served in law enforcement.
Over the course of three years, Wooldridge rode his horse, Misty, more than 3,000 miles from Savannah, Ga. to Newport, Ore. , wearing a T-shirt that read, "Cops say legalize pot - ask me why."
He listed his reasons at the lunch meeting of about a dozen Northside Norfolk Rotary members:
Drugs have gotten cheaper and purer in the years of the war on drugs.
Government spends more money building prisons than on schools.
Police officers who waste time on people smoking marijuana in their back yards miss other crimes, such as drunken driving.
Addiction is a medical issue, not a criminal one.
Finally, he said, despite tougher sanctions for those who use or sell drugs, people still do.
Someone is always stupid enough or desperate enough to accept the terms of the job. "Every drug dealer arrested or killed has been replaced" - Wooldridge snapped his fingers - "like that."
Wooldridge's catch phrase, cut from the T-shirt, now hangs in the back window of his Texas-tagged truck. He spoke to the group wearing a Stetson hat and cowboy boots, a saucer-sized silver belt buckle holding up gray dress pants.
He quit riding Misty so he could breed her - she's now pregnant by a Russian stallion, also a horse that has travelled thousands of miles -but he plans another road trip next year.
College students might embrace his message more enthusiastically, he said, but he chooses to try to sway Rotary and Kiwanis members.
"They are most often the leaders of a community," Wooldridge said. "They play golf with legislators."
It was a tough room.
"I don't agree with anything he said," Walter Norton said. "If you legalize the stuff, kids are going to be able to go anywhere to buy drugs."
Jerry Seyer, president of the group, said he invited Wooldridge to speak to see what he had to say. Seyer said few people accept the possibility of legalizing drugs.
"I think we ought to start slow, think about legalizing marijuana, and go from there," Seyer said. "We have to try something."
For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.