Monday, August 15th, 2011
“I got into police work back in Michigan because of the cops and robbers stuff. In the 70’s, when I put on a badge and a gun, and shoved six bullets in a 357, it was about catching the bad guys. Police officers were there to protect the public safety, and stop those who killed, raped, and robbed.
I tell people that we should not be wasting our time running after Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Charlie Sheen, and Rush Limbaugh for using a green plant.
“Things changed in the mid-80’s when the government enacted the Civil Asset Forfeiture Law. After that, looking for drugs became a money business. Cops were encouraged to move away from protect and serve and onto search and arrest by the lure of bringing in money to the department. Every year, civil asset forfeiture brings in about $3.6 billion and helps the police departments buy grown-up toys for good-old boys and take trips to Florida in January.
“As an officer, you salute and go, but I had a real issue with my colleagues spending their time searching cars for bags of pot while there were drunk drivers and pedophiles out roaming around. You might have to search 12 cars to find one bag. Then, you would try and get the owner to tell you where he got it and move up the chain. I tell you, this took hundreds and hundreds of hours. No matter who or how many we arrested, they were always replaced immediately.
“For me, the drug war became so stupid and full of nonsense, but I never thought much about getting involved with it. Then, after 18 years of a badge and a gun, my wife got an opportunity to move to Texas. I had done everything but shoot someone and get shot at, and I wanted a new challenge. I speak three languages and I wanted to use them, so off we went.
“While in Texas, I got into this work through my interest in overpopulation, which is the idea that we have too many people on the planet. To make a long story short, a guy contacted me through a letter to the editor I wrote. When he found out I was a cop, he lobbied me to get on the board of his cause, which was ending the drug war. I told him this was never going to end. He said, ‘Well, the Berlin Wall fell down. Who thought that would happen?’ As a kid, I had been back-and-forth through that wall several times. He had me.
“I decided to take an adventure and ride my horse from Savannah, Georgia to Newport, Oregon wearing a t-shirt that said, “Cops say legalize pot, ask me how.” It was great marketing and I would let people come to me. I am a zealot, but not a proselytizer on the issue. I had so many great conversations, and also had people getting right in my face and saying, ‘Blank you and the horse you rode in on.’ In 2005, I made a proposal to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to do another ride from Los Angeles to New York City in seven months. After doing that, I came to D.C. to be a full-time education specialist on the drug issue.
“When I first started this work, the wind was in my face. In 2006, when I walked into Republican offices, I would get mostly frosty, and sometimes neutral receptions. The Democrats were more polite, but people did not want to touch the issue. Even if the policy made sense, no one wanted to touch the politics. After the Ron Raul revolution in 2008, my world here flipped. Now with people making a push for more state’s rights, I feel like the wind is behind me.
“I tell people that we should not be wasting our time running after Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Charlie Sheen, and Rush Limbaugh for a green plant. My job as a police officer is not to fix stupid or be part of the moral police. Let these idiots do what they want in the privacy of their own home, but let’s regulate and tax all drugs and make them available in state regulated stores.
“Again, from a policy discussion, this is a no brainer. If the aides in Congress could vote, I would be out of a job. They recognize that we should not leave dangerous drugs in the hands of criminals. The problem is the politicians who are too afraid to make good policy choices if it means losing one vote or the money of the interests. This all happens despite the fact that the war on drugs has been the most destructive, dysfunctional, and immoral policy since slavery and Jim Crow. Hispanics are three times more likely, and African-Americans are eight times more likely to be targeted by it than whites. And, tens of thousands of people are killed in Mexico every year for our failed policies. Sadly, as long as the dead people are someplace else, it doesn’t really matter here.
“I am one guy with a cowboy hat and a good looking horse fighting this drug war against an elephant. I am inspired by a great quote from a Texas Ranger named Captain McDonald, ‘No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin.’ Well, you are looking at a guy who keeps on a-comin. I have worn out three pairs of boots and done over 2,000 presentations in my five years. It may not be done in my lifetime, but I will pass along the baton when I can’t do it anymore. Women’s suffrage took 8o years, but it got done. This, too, will get done.”
Howard “Cowboy” Wooldridge is a retired police detective, co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and the Washington, D.C. representative of Citizens Opposing Prohibition (COP). If interested in getting involved or learning more, you can email Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also asks that if you have been affected by or want to end the drug war, to please write your representative.