Pubdate: Tue, 19 Aug 2003
Source: Times-News, The (ID)
Copyright: 2003 Magic Valley Newspapers
Author: Rebecca Meany, Times-News writer
Photo: Howard Wooldridge rides his horse, "Misty," down Addison Avenue on 
Monday. Wooldridge is a founding member of Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition, which is dedicated to legalizing drugs. This is the third year 
Wooldridge has been riding across the country to spread his group's 
message. Photo by Bruce Shields, The Times-News
Cited: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Bookmark: (Howard Wooldridge)


Man Rides Across Country With Unorthodox Message

TWIN FALLS -- The longest, dustiest, loneliest trail of a cowboy was
never as challenging as Howard Wooldridge's road.

With a one-eyed pinto named "Misty" and just 16 pounds of pack, the retired
police officer is traveling more than 3,000 miles to send a message to
America: The millions of hours spent on drug enforcement reduce public safety.

"There's a massive crime wave because of the U.S. prohibition of
drugs," he said.

Drugs are cheaper, stronger and easier to buy than ever before,
according to Wooldridge.

The solution?

"There is no solution," he admits. "Only approaches."

Wooldridge is a founding member of Law Enforcement Against
Prohibition, a group of current and retired police officers who
support legalizing drugs. He said he retired from law enforcement in
1994 after 15 years as a police officer in Bath, Mich. On Monday, he
and his horse traveled between Kimberly and Filer on the latest leg of
his cross-country odyssey.

"Drugs have been around for thousands of years, and likely always will
be," he said. "But the 1 to 2 percent of Americans who use heavy
narcotics will use them whether or not they're legal. And the other 98
percent of Americans don't need a law to stop them from using. We
won't use drugs, because we're smarter than that."

Current drug laws, he maintains, are a waste of time.

"We're the mosquito on the rear of an elephant," he said. "We make 0.0
difference, and every cop knows it."

Local officials, however, disagree.

"We have a lot of people who were cooking meth but are now in jail,"
said state Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee. Without current drug laws, he said, each of those
people would still be on the street peddling drugs.

To him, that's evidence enough that drug laws make a difference in the

Wooldridge expects that kind of response.

"They make big busts and fill up prisons," he said, "but does it
reduce the supply of drugs on the street? No."

"We condemn our children to grow up in a world of blood-sucking drug
dealers and their free samples," he continued. "And since all profits
go to criminals and terrorists, where's the upside?"

"There's a concept that the government will protect you from bad
things -- that we need the government to protect us. We need to return
to a policy based on personal responsibility," he said.

Gordon Jackson of Twin Falls agrees.

"We've wasted a lot on drugs (and the drug war)," he said. "We should
go back to basics. We have to instill a moral attitude in our kids."

But for Detective Scott Smith of the Twin Falls Police Department, a
moral attitude is not enough.

"This year the city of Twin Falls adopted a zero tolerance" stance
toward drugs, he said. "Our goal is to increase by 10 percent the
number of narcotics-related arrests from last year."

The department has set up a public hotline to tip off drug crimes and
discourage offenders.

According to Smith, drug dealers are taking notice.

"The word on the street is that we're doing this," he said. "They know
about the hotline, and they know we're aggressively pursuing them."

Because punishment is the best deterrent to any crime, he said, the
police department is devoting a tremendous effort to that area. And
because drugs are often at the root of other crimes, the Twin Falls
police expect the crackdown to reduce crime in general.

But what many see as vital, Wooldridge sees as ineffectual.

"Drug dealers accept death (from other dealers) and imprisonment as a
condition of employment," he said. "Plus, those who get taken off the
street are just replaced by someone else."

Wooldridge's best-case scenario is that all drug use and drug abuse
become a medical issue, not a criminal problem.

"If I were king for a day, I'd let doctors and nurses handle people
who end up with drug abuse problems," he said. "Get law enforcement
back to crimes which generate a 911 call. Get the child molesters and
the drunk drivers."

Other positive effects would be felt right away, according to
Wooldridge. If legalized, the price of drugs would drop precipitously,
he argues. With prices slashed, abusers wouldn't have to steal to get
money to buy drugs, and a drop in other crimes would occur.

"If legalized, cocaine would drop from $45 a gram to $2," he

Additionally, according to Wooldridge, the $60 billion a year going to
drug law enforcement could be reallocated to other areas.

For Smith, any amount of money and time enforcing drug laws is a good

"The effects of drugs are devastating," he said. "And only a small
number of people are able to exercise personal responsibility."

Wooldridge remains optimistic about his cause.

"I sincerely believe that in eight to 10 years the baby boomers will
be fully in control of government and at a minimum will end
prohibition on marijuana," he said. "Enough voters will come to
believe it's a waste of time for our thin blue line to be looking for
pot under some kid's front seat."

"This is a good cause, and I'll work on it until it's solved or until
I draw my last breath," he said.
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