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July 21, 2005 - Core Weekly (WI)

Former Cop Wants Drugs Legalized

By Tim Cigelske

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Howard Wooldridge is trying to change the world with a horse, a T-shirt and a fiery zeal. He believes that to save lives, lower crime and conserve tax dollars for such things as education, the multi-billion dollar drug war must be ended. It's too soon to tell if he's left an impact, but say this for the man: He knows how to get attention.

It's hard not to notice a guy in a cowboy hat and spurs riding a horse through urban areas - as he did recently in Madison - wearing a T-shirt that reads "Cops Say Legalize Drugs. Ask Me Why."

Can he even do that in the city?

"A horse has all the rights and privileges of a bicycle," Wooldridge says.

He should know the law. Wooldridge, 54, spent 18 years as a police officer near Lansing, Mich. It was that time in the trenches that convinced him that the drug war was futile and harmful, a realization that inspired this cross-country journey.

"Some people think I'm a flaming liberal," he tells coreweekly while seeking shade after a sweltering 25-mile ride. "No, no, no, no. I'm for privacy rights and personal responsibility."

Wooldridge fashions himself a modern-day Paul Revere, traversing the countryside on horseback and shouting out a warning for all to hear. But instead of summoning the minutemen, Wooldridge is slowly recruiting troops behind his groundswell movement.

"Call me an optimist, call me crazy, call me a muffin head," he says. "But I think we'll get it done in 10-15 years."

Wooldridge is certainly doing all he can to further that goal. In 2003, he made his first cross-country trip to raise awareness on the back of his faithful one-eyed horse Misty. He's also a founding member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a lobbyist in the Texas legislature that helped pass a bill excluding jail time for first-time offenders caught with drugs for personal use.

In May he started up a second cross-country journey from Los Angeles to New York, which he hopes to reach by November. On this trip he is finding people a lot more receptive to his ideas.

"Last time 90 percent walked away from me thinking I was a lunatic," he said. "Now they're coming back with intelligent questions: 'Is it working elsewhere?' 'Who else is trying this?' America is waking up to the fact that prisons are useless."

In his dirty wrangler blue jeans, two-day stubble and folksy colloquialisms, it might be easy to dismiss Wooldridge on first glance. But he's nothing if not armed and knowledgeable. He readily shares details of the "complete failure" of Plan Columbia, the toll of gang warfare over drug turf, and the little-known HR1528 proposition that he calls "the snitch law."

Some of his arguments are familiar to legalization advocates, but Wooldridge is intent on doing more than preaching to the choir. His unusual crusade invariably garners press in every city he stops in, and he estimates that he's personally spoken with some 14,000 citizens on the street. He never tires of it and his passion never seems to wane.

"Give me 18 minutes and I can convert a lot of people," he says. "You just have to ask people, which is more important to you, going after the child molesters and drunk drivers, or chasing after Rush Limbaugh and Willie Nelson? Let's have our police focus on looking for the bad guys."

And if people are still not convinced, he has an answer for them, too.

"If I'm wrong," he says, "We can always go back to where we are now: When drugs are cheaper, more potent and more readily available than ever before."

Read More about Howard Woolridge and his Journey across America.

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