It's not every day an ex-cop rides into town encouraging the legalization of pot.
And that, of course, makes Howard Wooldridge just the kind of atypical advocate whom supporters of marijuana's legalization like to present to reporters. We confess, his résumé made us curious.
Here's his background: Wooldridge served 18 years on the police force in Bath Township, an 8,000-resident municipality in Michigan. He retired in 1994, frustrated by what he says was too much law enforcement devoted to marijuana busts and too little to other substance-abuse problems like drunken driving.
Famous for cross-county campaigns with his horse Misty, the 59-year-old Wooldridge has spent the past 13 years in Washington, D.C., with a group of like-minded current and former officials called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Wooldridge visited Oregon as state legalization supporters are gathering signatures to put a measure on the November ballot that would legalize and tax marijuana. The Oregon measure is Initiative 73.
WW: Do you think most police officers would agree with you that legalizing pot is a good idea?
Howard Wooldridge: In my travels, about 60 percent to 65 percent would say legalize and tax marijuana. They have the same experience as me: 20 years, 30 years, and never being to a call generated by marijuana. It's like, 'This is stupid. We've got better things to do." But if you get them in front of a camera, a reporter, they'll say marijuana is a dangerous drug and we don't want to condone it and make people think it's OK, so we need to keep this thing illegal.
How can you never have had a marijuana-related call in your time as a cop?
We're dispatched to a call…there's a family fight, a disturbance, a whatever. Cannabis consumption generated zero [of those calls]. People drinking? 13,000. The prohibition of cannabis caused one murder in my township, and one armed robbery and shooting. The bad guys were coming in to rob the marijuana growers, and the gunfight blah blah blah. But that's due to prohibition.
So why don't more cops speak up?
Ask cops, "Do you think you have a conflict of interest?" If they say no, challenge it. We depend on prohibition for a big, fat overtime check, special grants from Salem and Washington, D.C., to go after these drug dealers. Task forces, marijuana in the fall, helicopters flying around. Just your knock-and-talk drug busts down here. These are all monies we get to enforce prohibition. Absolutely, we have a financial interest to continuing this thing.
Do you use marijuana?
I have not smoked in 32 years. I smoked for about seven years, starting around my 19th birthday. I stopped just before going into the police academy because I figured it was time to grow up. But I learned from being around hundreds of people who were using cannabis like I was, that the harm associated with the drug is down to almost nothing, for both the user and the people around them. So it's just not worth police time. We've got better things to do.
If you stopped because it was time to grow up, why do you favor legalizing it for others?
The war on drugs has failed. After 40 years, a trillion dollars [and] the arrest of 40 million people on drug charges, drugs are cheaper, stronger and readily available. The idea that if it just saves one life, that will make it worth it? No. Because as we're trying to save one person, we're missing the drunken drivers, the child molesters, people flying airplanes into buildings…we're causing hundreds of thousands of Americans to be crime victims.
Which state is most likely to legalize marijuana, and when?
It's going to be California, and it's going to be this year. The polls are still tracking in the 56th percentile.
What do you think the prospects are in Oregon?
If it's on the ballot this year, you've also got an excellent chance of making it legal, regulated and taxed in Oregon, because the people here have had a long experience with medical cannabis, and realized the sun still comes up every morning. And for all the yelling and screaming in law enforcement, where are all the massive problems, death and destruction caused by the medical marijuana program?
Supporters of Initiative 28, which would allow medical marijuana patients to buy marijuana legally for the first time from dispensaries in Oregon, turned in more than 110,000 signatures last week. Oregon law requires 82,769 of these signatures to be valid in order for the initiative to make the November ballot.