POCATELLO - Howard Wooldridge rode a brown and white paint horse across the United States in 2003 wearing a T-shirt with a shocking message, given the fact he spent his life working in law enforcement.
Like American Revolution hero Paul Revere, Wooldridge said he delivered an important message to Americans, one that got him on television 14 times and in print 45 times during the trip.
The T-shirt, which he's worn for the past four years, reads, "Cops say legalize pot. Ask me why."
About 10,000 people have followed the shirt's instructions.
His short answer: "We want to go after drunken drivers and child molesters."
Wooldridge, a retired police detective who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, gave his long answer Tuesday night during a speech at Idaho State University.
It's not just pot he would legalize. It's cocaine, heroin, LSD - every illegal substance.
The 52-year-old, who wears a cowboy hat and a white mustache, doesn't use drugs or encourage others to try them, although he admits he smoked marijuana 26 years ago.
He said drug prohibition increases crime, the spread of disease and death.
If drugs were legalized, he believes drug use wouldn't rise, crimes would dramatically drop because drug users wouldn't have to steal to afford them, the government could regulate them and make them safer, and police would have more time to pursue offenders who pose a public risk.
"If you support current policy, you're condemning your kids to grow up in a world with drug dealers and their free samples. Youth are sucked into the criminality of prohibition with the excitement and easy money, and they get hurt and killed because of it," Wooldridge said. "We never have and never will make a difference on whether there's drug dealers on the streets."
ISU student Cody Cranor said he agreed that the fact that illegal drugs cause more crime, but he isn't sure that legalizing drugs is the answer.
"( Wooldridge ) has some good points, but he's a little out there," Cranor said.
Wooldridge's views elicited cheers from people like Ron Hammers. Hammers believes if marijuana were legal, it could be controlled.
He also supports the use of medical marijuana. Hammer's father-in-law has cancer, and Hammer believes marijuana would be better than the drugs currently prescribed. Marijuana increases appetite, helping patients to get nourishment and get stronger, Hammer says.
"If you're terminally ill, what's it going to hurt to smoke a little weed?" Hammer said.
ISU student Rob Geddes disagreed with Wooldridge, saying he needs more evidence to back his opinion.
"I think he needs to back up his opinion with facts," he said.
Wooldridge is one of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's five founding members. It's a lobbyist group comprised of former officers, judges and other law enforcement officials which he credits with getting Texas to relax its drug laws.
On Sept. 1, 2003, Texas passed a law preventing prison or jail time for anyone caught with personal-use quantities of drugs.
"There is a movement in our country to think about ( drug legalization ). It should be a personal and family matter," Wooldridge said. "People are hungry for new ideas. We keep building prison after prison with no effect on drug dealers."
During his 16 years with the Bath Township Police Department, near Lansing, Mich., Wooldridge led his department consistently in drunken driving arrests.
But when he stopped a person and found small amounts of drugs or alcohol, provided they weren't high on any substances, he poured out the booze, threw away the drugs and sent them on their way.
Wooldridge believes many other police officers agree with him but aren't vocal, until they can retire and speak their minds without fear of hurting their careers.
His group now has 1,000 members.
"I have faith in the American people," Wooldridge said. "They are not going to stick a needle in their arms just because it's legal.
"I have faith that they're not that stupid."
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