Former Michigan police detective chats with students about the War on Drugs — and tells us how it hurts the good guys while letting the bad guys get away.
By Elijah Sullivan
Rogue Community College may soon have to consider smoking policies of a new kind – if Howard Wooldridge’s predictions hold true. A 16-year veteran of the police force, Wooldridge is currently visiting college campuses around the country to speak candidly about ending the prohibition of cannabis.
For the past several years, Wooldridge has toured community college campuses around the country to speak about the failures of prohibition in America – often by horseback, earning him the nickname “Cowboy” Wooldridge. Wooldridge currently serves as Education Specialist for the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
“This is the endgame,” Wooldridge said. He expects prohibition to be repealed around the country in the next couple of years. According to the United Nations World Drug Report presented to Congress in June of last year, the War on Drugs has “failed.”
According to his bio published on LEAP’s website, Wooldridge was an officer in Bath Township, Michigan, where he was so good at catching drunk drivers that he single-handedly reduced the fatal accident rate in the town to zero – for six years. After making detective, Wooldridge had an 83 percent success rate solving robberies by arrest. Compare that against the national average of 15 percent. After retirement, Wooldridge traveled the globe, visiting 36 countries and mastering French, German and Spanish. He was also on the faculty of Lansing Community College.
On April 29, Wooldridge engaged about a dozen students and community members in an informal discussion at Riverside campus, speaking authoritatively on the current state of law enforcement.
“The cops should be on the chat rooms keeping pedophiles from meeting with your grandchildren,” Wooldridge said, “not out chasing Willie Nelson. That’s what the police used to do: public safety.”
Wooldridge thinks lawmen are too fond of drug arrests because of the mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Seized drug money is federalized and split between local police departments, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the federal government. The U.S. makes over $3 billion annually this way, Wooldridge said.
“It just goes to our toy fund,” Wooldridge said. This is why the country’s largest police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, lobbies so hard against ending prohibition. “They’re looking out for the paychecks of 325,000 members of their union,” Wooldridge said. “[Their] fight is with civilians.”
The “toy fund” is a police fund is used for anything from buying “toys” for the department to sending officers to “training seminars” – where they spend their afternoons playing golf, according to Wooldridge.
The FBI’s 2008 “Crime in the United States” report revealed that about 1.7 million arrests were made in 2008 for drug violations. That is one drug arrest every 18 seconds.
“The FBI currently employs only 33 full time-equivalent agents to investigate child pornography,” Wooldridge said. “We identified over 500,000 computers containing child pornography, but we only arrested the worst 2 percent,” Wooldridge said. “In 2008, there were 190,000 children living in homes that with known child pornography possessors.”
It’s a thin blue line getting thinner, said Wooldridge. “Unions block bills that even mention ending prohibition.”
Meanwhile, the United States now has the largest prison population in the world, and the fastest-growing demographic is non-violent offenders. The United States has more non-violent offenders serving prison time than the entire prison population of the European Union. According to the American Corrections Association, state prisons held 253,300 inmates for drug offenses in 2007. This cost state prisons about $17.11 million per day to imprison drug offenders, or $6.245 billion per year.
“In our current economic climate, we simply cannot afford to keep arresting more than three people every minute in the failed ‘war on drugs,’” said Jack Cole, a retired undercover narcotics detective who heads LEAP. “Plus, if we legalized and taxed drug sales, we could actually create new revenue in addition to the money we’d save from ending the cruel policy of arresting users.”
Wooldridge thinks prohibition is a joke, anyway. “Everyone in America has first-hand experience with cannabis. Even my mother, who believed Nixon when he said cannabis cost us the Vietnam War and would destroy our culture.”
In the latter part of his career, Walter Cronkite endorsed the ending of prohibition, saying this about LEAP’s promotional video: “Anyone concerned about the failure of our $69 billion-a-year War on Drugs should watch this 12-minute program. You will meet front line, ranking police officers who give us a devastating report on why it cannot work. It is a must-see for any journalist or public official dealing with this issue.”
Wooldridge asked attendees to attend a public meeting on May 18 at the Oregon Building in Portland, where a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis will be discussed. He expects that a similar bill will be President Obama’s desk by August 1. Wooldridge proposes that cannabis policies be changed to correspond with current laws for controlling alcohol.
“Take the Constitution, plug in ‘marijuana’ everywhere it says ‘alcohol,’ and that’s your bill,” he said.
“When prohibition if lifted, and the sun still comes up the next morning, people will say, ‘What else can we legalize?’” Wooldridge said. He has not smoked cannabis in 32 years, but he plans to be first in line for a pack of cannabis cigarettes when prohibition ends.