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September 14, 2005 - Syracuse New Times (NY)

Happy Trails

By Walt Shepard

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Howard Wooldridge spent 18 years as a police officer in townships near Lansing, Mich., before retiring and moving to Texas, where he began working with that state's Drug Policy Forum.

Now he's riding horseback across the country wearing a T-shirt that reads "Cops Say Legalize Drugs--Ask Me Why."

In a telephone interview from the saddle last week, clip-clopping through the southeastern corner of Buffalo, he gave the short answer. "Drug prohibition is costing this nation in excess of $70 billion annually," he observed. "That is money that could be spent on schools, roads, protecting the public from violent criminals."

Wooldridge started his trek in Los Angeles on March 4, walking 33 miles on the city's concrete, since riding on streets stressed the horse's ankles and knees.

His original mount, Misty, "developed issues," according to Wooldridge, and retired from the sojourn. By alternating time on his two replacement horses, he noted, he can cover 25 to 30 miles a day. His goal is to reach New York City by Oct.1.

Wooldridge is due in Syracuse on Friday, Sept. 16, to speak on the quad at Onondaga Community College from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. He is also scheduled to address classes at OCC, Syracuse University and Le Moyne College before riding the next day from Onondaga Park to the Southwest Community Center to Libba Cotton Grove and in the Westcott Street Cultural Fair parade Sunday, Sept. 18.

His local appearances have been arranged by Mike Smithson, local coordinator of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), who met Wooldridge on a consulting trip to Texas in 1999 to help the Drug Policy Forum set up a speakers' bureau. Both are founding members of LEAP's national organization.

"Howard had started riding around the local community back then," Smithson recalled. "Then his shirt said, 'Cops Say Legalize Pot--Ask Me Why.' LEAP adopted and expanded it. He did a cross-country ride once before, in 2003, but he had no support then. This year was well planned, with a recreational vehicle for the tour and a dozen people doing advance work."

Wooldridge maintained that the response along the way has been overwhelmingly positive. He eats at a diner every day and noted that he rarely has to pay for his meal, as people offer to pick up his check, and often offer places to hook up electricity for his RV overnight, hot showers and cold beers.

"When I was a police officer," he reflected, "I knew we ran the risk of getting killed on drug raids, but of all the calls I answered, 0.00 percent of the troubles were generated by drug use."

Wooldridge speaks six languages and has done extensive traveling to observe drug maintenance programs and consult with law enforcement officials in several European countries. For him, the solution is clear: "To boil it down, all drugs should be sold in a pharmacy. All drugs.

If someone has a drug problem they should go to a clinic and see a doctor, not go to jail. Legalizing drugs will bust up the black markets, which are the No. 1 source of funding terrorists in the world. The best argument is made by asking, 'Why are we funding the people who are trying to kill us?'"

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