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One Lone Ranger Rides Again To Legalize Dope

Howard Wooldridge has one of the craziest jobs: trying to convince 535 of the most uptight people in Washington - the entire membership of Congress - to legalize drugs. That means everything from marijuana to cocaine to heroin.

The idea isn't quite as far-fetched as you may think. The more money the United States spends on fighting a drug war that has spiraled out of control in Mexico, the more interest Congress seems to be taking in talk of decriminalization.

"For the first time since I've been here, the "L" word, legalization, has been used in subcommittee hearings as a solution to the violence and Mexican cartels," says Wooldridge, a cowboy and retired police detective who three years ago became the lobbyist for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, known as LEAP.

A handful of lawmakers have endorsed legalization of marijuana, including Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas).

Their group will likely remain small.

As Rohrabacher points out, drug legalization isn't politically palatable to a majority of House members who face reelection every two years. "If it was a vote - a blind vote where nobody knew who was voting - you would have overwhelming support for legalizing marijuana out there, but they will never vote for it because they are afraid of taking on a controversial issue."

LEAP is encouraged by the efforts of Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), whose prison reform bill would explore the possibility of decriminalizing drug use. Webb's bill has a growing roster of bipartisan co-sponsors led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

Just yesterday on CNN, Webb signaled he'd be open to legalizing pot. ("I think what we need to do is to put all the issues on the table. If you go back to 1980 as a starting point, I think we had 40,000 people in prison on drug charges and today we have about a half a million of them. A great majority of those are non-violent crimes, possession crimes or minor sales.")

Wooldridge trots (on foot) around Capitol Hill in his signature cowboy hat and boots carrying the message that "the war on drugs is the most destructive, dysfunctional and immoral domestic policy since slavery and Jim Crow." He says the idea of ending "modern prohibition" is just beginning to penetrate as lawmakers grapple with a crumbling economy, a soaring deficit and tens of billions in U.S. tax dollars being spent on a seemingly endless drug war.

Though clearly, it isn't resonating with everyone. Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) recently labeled Wooldridge's group of former law enforcement agents "probably a bunch of old potheads."

Watch the video above, which chronicles a day in the life of the cowboy lobbyist, to see how Wooldridge dug in his spurs. (And click here and here to see photos of Wooldridge riding his horse, Misty, on a cross-country mission to legalize drugs.)

By Mary Ann Akers  |  April 24, 2009; 7:25 AM ET
 
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Comments

If our elected representatives are by and large afraid to take on controversial issues on any topic, then we need to replace them, each and every one, until we find those with the wisdom and the courage to follow truth.

The truth of the drug war is that it has been an expensive failure. The sooner we start looking at truth, the better off we will be.

Posted by: Indyskywolf | April 24, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

The war on selected drug users is just that same old Jim Crow wine in new bottles. People being judged not for their own individual behavior but because they are part of some arbitrarily demonized group.
Get real alcohol supremacists, your drug kills and maims more in a day than cannabis does in a year. Easily. And most of you know it, you're just pretending that you don't.
Come on West Coast, legalize it in referendums in 2010!

Posted by: newageblues | April 24, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse


In order to get some sensible elected officials, we first need publically financed campaigns. The tobacco industry alone must spend a lot of money supporting the Prohibition, and nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs in general use.

Posted by: dotellen | April 24, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Drug Wars ha been a very Expensive cost to our citizens and nation as a whole not only in financial matters, but in its' being the Cause of Most of the Violence associated with Drugs.

Much Violence in our nation will be drastically cut if not for the Drug Wars against our citizens of our nation.

Posted by: SOCIETY1 | April 24, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Everyone knows that the facts support legalization of marijuana. It is a million times safer than another drug we all agree cannot be banned, i.e., alcohol.
Only a politician so scared of being demonized as "pro-drug" would feel constrained to resist legalization efforts. The danger of being pilloried & crucified over supporting legalization is merely an illusion. Who on Capitol Hill has the wisdom & courage to declare that the emperor's new clothes are really nothing at all?

Posted by: DoctorB | April 24, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Mary Ann, Howard and the Post for this informative sleuthing after the truth about the new prohibition.

This farce of a war is about undesirable (in the minds of servant's of tyranny)
citizen control, not drug control. Weed out morally bankrupt servants of tyranny, gun control fanatics and racists by taking away the main tool they use these days to extend their agenda, the new prohibition. Servants of tyranny want you to believe the evils of the drug war are unintended but felony convictions disenfranchise mostly poor and minority Americans.

Help end the demented new prohibition, help construct better safer drug policies for society and the individual. Take morally bankrupt profiteers, servants of tyranny, gun control fanatics and racists a step closer to being politically dead bodies.

Make your Legislator realize we want a better, safer drug policy.

Posted by: ColleenMcCool | April 24, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The war on drugs has been a disaster.It has not helped the problem, and has made many things worse. Too many young people in poor neighborhoods who feel that selling drugs is the only way to make money, the only way out of poverty; overcrowding of jails with a lot of people who shouldn't be there; tying up law enforcement personel who would be better employed with solving crimes like murder, kidnapping etc.. The war on drugs has added to these crimes. It has been money down a rat hole that could be used to treat addicts, develope programs for realistic job training and guidance for disadvantaged people, real and useful education in poor neighborhood schools, and a lot more to give people real hope and good jobs.

Legalizing marijuana is a good first step, but legalizing the use of all currently illegal drugs is a very good idea. Didn't we learn anything from Porhibition???

Posted by: goodwolves | April 24, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Keep on fighting Howard, you're fighting a good fight.

Bring logic and reason to a politician is a very hard thing to do. Some even say it's imposable. Those same people also said that a Black Man would NEVER be President too.

Thank you Howard Wooldridge for all the work you do on behalf of us Medical Users!!!

Thank you!!!

Posted by: imZandor | April 24, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

"If it was a vote - a blind vote where nobody knew who was voting - you would have overwhelming support for legalizing marijuana out there, but they will never vote for it because they are afraid of taking on a controversial issue."
____________________________________

So....cowardice outweighs sensible public policy? That's just great.

Posted by: distance88 | April 24, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

"A bunch of old potheads" have rights, too. The right to pursuit of happiness, among others. The right to enjoy a plant that is all natural, they way God made it. Seems that the Christians should be onboard with pot legalization.

Posted by: spro | April 24, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

If this country would listen to all the old potheads what a beautiful world it would be!

Posted by: Woodstocknative | April 24, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Decriminalization or legalization would at least cut down on the amount of petty theft, burglary and the abundance of national chain pawn shops that did not exist in years past. My service company is at a point where we cannot get theft insurance on our equipment or building due to the addicts looking for something they can pawn or sell. Give them the stuff! Good Lord how much have we gained for locking up our children?

JW

Posted by: lawnman73 | April 24, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Peace, pot, smoke alot.

Posted by: eddiemacs | April 24, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

The U.S. have a lot of old laws, sometimes surprising.

Posted by: uzs106 | April 24, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

People who use the term pothead or doper for individuals who have made a safer, wiser health choice are showing their ignorance.

We can educate them. Make your Legislators realize we want a better, safer drug policy.

The tobacco, alcohol and prescription drug gangs cause more death annually than all illicit drugs.

Only 50 percent of high school students graduate in our ten biggest cities and only 40 per cent graduate in NYC, Baltimore and Detroit. In the Netherlands 92 percent graduate; that's No Child Left Behind! Much worse, this drug war has created an obscene teenage murder rate that's nineteen times higher than in the Netherlands, where drugs are legally available to everyone over eighteen.

We need to fight drug abuse with compassion; treat nonviolent abusers as patients not criminals. Fight use with factual evidence! We are diminishing the use of tobacco with the campaign, Knowledge is Contagious, so Infect Truth! Educate people and they will make better choices for themselves.

True education is our most important duty; the way out of ignorance and repression. Do not doubt history will mark this time as a new beginning for a period of enlightenment and abundance.

Posted by: ColleenMcCool | April 24, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I couldn't agree with the Lone Ranger more.
All we are doing as a nation is price fixing for the cartels. Legalize and tax the hell out of the stuff. At some point we must bring personal responsibility and free will and consequences back to this country. Having this conversation with others the biggest concerns were an epidemic of drug use; what do you call it now? We don't want druggies on the highway, like they are not already on the street! Ask any police officer and they will tell you the most dangerous domestic situations they respond to are being fueled by Bud and Corona. Initially there will be fallout and tragedy but after a while young people will learn that this stuff could kill you ya know?
Prohibition was a failure and so is the so called "war on drugs".

Posted by: menopausequeen | April 24, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Conservatives should use their brains on this. If the drug war continues, Mexican violence spills across the border, and US gangs continue to kill each other and bystanders over turf, it will only give ammo to those who want stricter gun laws.

The kneejerk response of conservatives is to crush others' freedoms, but it may end up rebounding on their own.

Posted by: JenDray | April 24, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Also, the US has by far the highest prison population (both per capita and in total numbers) of any country in the world.

You are six times as likely to be imprisoned in the Land of the Free as you are in China.

We can argue about the causes of this, but can anyone dispute the fact that it's a national disgrace?

Posted by: JenDray | April 24, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

What we've been doing for decades isn't working. So we have to change unless we want things to get worse. More of the same isn't going to fix this problem.

Posted by: timscanlon | April 24, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

A politician's stance on the drug war is a true test of character--or lack thereof

Posted by: Efficacy | April 24, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Its really very simple. First, The Politicians, lobbyists and extremely rich drug companies and thier supporters will not make emough money off legalizing marijuana because it can be manufactured and distributed cheaper by Thomas and Tyrone in the basement under atmospheric controls. Secondly, this war on drugs has created a very complex judicial system of government that people have spent years to establish. Basically, you would be getting rid of jobs in this country and others. And third, those extremely rich and powerful that are already making money from the distribution and manufacturing of the this drug will be pulling their faithful income stream from up under themsleves. They have the control.

This is is a game.

Posted by: kamilquander | April 24, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I hesitate to post any further comment than the cogent, sensible remarks already made here by others... I especially commend the advice of IndySkyWolf, ColleenMcCool and goodwolves, but all of these comments have been positive and well-considered.

But here is my two cents, anyway. Imperial China followed the path of escalating punishment to combat opium use, until the standard penalty was death for the opium possessor, and enslavement for his family (this was a culture in which family was the paramount value). Prohibition still didn't work.

Besides its "shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot" dysfunctionality, Prohibition is morally wrong. Legitimate powers of the government are derived from the rights of individuals... an individual has rights to his own life, and his own property, so government can properly be delegated the power to enforce laws protecting each person's life and property. NOBODY has a right to decide what his neighbor can eat or drink, what religion he can practice, or what he does for entertainment (including the use of drugs or alcohol)... so there is no basis in individual rights to control other people's choices as to these matters, which can be properly delegated to government to enforce.

Prohibition is immoral, as well as foolish and self-defeating.

Posted by: Observer44 | April 24, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse


We need to start dealing with all of these pressing issues like the economy, and also begin to remember old promises we made long ago. For example, global poverty, which we pledged in 2000 to help eradicate by supporting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The Borgen Project (www.borgenproject.org) has some interesting insight into addressing the issues of global poverty, something we can remedy easily and sustainably.

Some interesting figures to ponder:
$30 billion USD: The annual shortfall to end global poverty.
$550 billion USD: The annual US defense budget.

Posted by: concernedcitizen1111 | April 24, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Sen. Jim Webb for president! Hes the only senator who's got the balls to do what's right, even when its not popular.


Posted by: wiz_fan | April 24, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Wooldridge. Thank you so much for working so diligently to save lives and end unconscionable government waste and injustice.

Posted by: Hope12 | April 24, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

What I want to know is:

At what point did people realize that the prohibition of alcohol wasn't working?

What is it going to take to make people see that what we're doing now just isn't working? Al Capone said that the best day of his life was the first day of prohibition. Just like then, today the economic engine that fuels criminal enterprises around the world is drugs - from Columbia, to Afganistan, to Mexico - drugs are where the money comes from.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, legalizing drugs and making them as safe as possible would deal a huge blow to crime and save a lot of lives (as well as tax money).

Posted by: robertjonezz | April 24, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

As a purely patriotic matter, we should end our dependence on foreign sources.

Obviously, the current prohibition is not working. Efforts to control illegal drugs are costly, and not just ineffective, but counter-effective -- the talent of the drug providers evolves much faster than that of law enforcement.

Problem with getting to legalization is that alcohol was / is a mainstream activity. Prohibition was brought about as the last stand of whiggish activists (they had been anti-slavery too, so deserve credit for their moral fiber, if not their political savvy.) Resistance to prohibition, defiance of it, even, was also a mainstream activity.

There is little mainstream support for legalization of most currently-prohibited drugs. "Old pot heads" aside, the logic of ending the current prohibition is based on doing what's sensible, not what people are demanding for their personal pleasures. Doing the sensible thing is not always strong.

Best solution: Obama should propose a major tax increase to fund the war on drugs. That would put the debate where it belongs.

Posted by: JoeODonnell | April 24, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

"Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) recently labeled Wooldridge's group of former law enforcement agents "probably a bunch of old potheads."

Republican congressmen from Iowa must be a bunch of old sh*theads.

Posted by: zenwick | April 24, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

We did not legalize alcohol till we had the great depression. Today we are on, if not in, another great depression. Instead of moaning about the congress not having the will power to legalize pot, we must let congress know all of us old pot heads are not going to vote for them if they try to use marijuana as a way to stay in office. Drop your congressman or woman a note asking to get on the bandwaggon now or face some very angry voters in the future. There is something wrong with a country more willing to pay, on average $90 a day to keep a poor man locked up but will quibble about sending money to colleges so more students can attend. The other day I read about another college student who chug-a-luged a bottle of whiskey and dropped dead. You could eat a pound or two of pot and your stomach might cause you to go to the toilet, but it is impossible to overdose on pot. On top of that how many rich users who have been caught with pot or much worse drugs do you find behind bars? Even old Russ, the motor mouth radio host was caught with enough illegally obtained drugs to treat one hundred people, never missed a day on the radio. Compare that to the man caught with one marijuana who can be sentenced to one year in prison, or if he was growing his own, one marijuana plant can get him five years in a federal prison. Last, but not least, who do you want to meet on the highway? A man who has drank a six pack of beer or a guy who has smoked a couple of joints? I'll take the pot head any day.

Posted by: keyquest13 | April 24, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse

What a place, where job seekers are forced to urinate for professional p!ss-checkers to scrutinize the urine and stick their noses into people's private affairs. I wish a drug would come along whose presence could only be discovered by examining the subject's feces. In that case, I would gladly provide the drug testers, the police, the prosecutors, the jailers, and all the other vampires with copious samples, the bigger the better. It would accurately reflect my opinion of the drug laws, their enforcers, and their cheerleaders. Thank you, Howard Woolridge, for your effort in trying to end the insanity and thank you, Sen. Webb, for providing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Posted by: RichardKefalos | April 24, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Prohibiting a non-toxic plant like cannabis, a plant that has a myriad of useful applications from oil to wood to paper to medicine, is outrageous. It's time to dump Prohibition permanently.
Read L.E.A.P. mission statement -- www.leap.com. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is composed of many very fine retired police officers who have figured out the damage the War on Drugs has caused the country is much more serious than the drugs themselves.

Posted by: Flenzoro | April 25, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Prohibiting a non-toxic plant like cannabis, a plant that has a myriad of useful applications from oil to wood to paper to medicine, is outrageous. It's time to dump Prohibition permanently.
Read L.E.A.P. mission statement -- www.leap.com. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is composed of many very fine retired police officers who speak out against this 'War' as they know 1st hand the damage the War on Drugs has caused to our country is much more serious than the drugs themselves. I applaud LEAP organization.

Posted by: Flenzoro | April 25, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I am not personally a user of cannabis though many years ago in my youth during and after my service in Vietnam I was a regular user.
Unlike others, I am very lucky not to have been caught and suffer a permanent criminal record as a result.
Over the years, the public was led to believe that cannabis caused death, brain damage, psychosis and loss of will resulting in horrific criminal acts.
Through education, we now know none of these dire predictions were likely or even realistic. Unfortunately we are still being fed an ongoing political lie.
This is an activity engaged in by many people from all walks of life with no harm done to others.
The sad downside are the many thousands of people are caught, jailed and their lives turned upside down.
This shouldn’t be allowed to happen to anyone especially when this activity affects no one but the user.
It certainly doesn’t lead to the use of harder drugs other than forcing the person buying cannabis to frequent a dealer who likely also sells the hard drugs.
With the wealth of information available today, it’s hard for me to understand anyone still believing in the evils of the “killer weed”.
Cannabis has been decriminalized in Massachusetts since January and I have not read or heard of any drastic increases in its use or of problems associated with the new law.
It appears crime has not gone up significantly nor have reports of accidents increased as a result of decriminalization.
It seems fear of the unknown has been the driving force in some communities to increase local penalties for public consumption.
The down side to our decriminalization law is that a user must still break the law to grow or purchase their cannabis.
While I am not in favor of legalizing all drugs, it seems to me this may be an opportunity for the US to once again lead the World in standing up for individual liberty and freedom.
No less important would be the benefits to be gained from taxation and regulation on a National level.
No law, no matter how well intended or well written can force people to abstain if the people feel the law is unjust.
The last 80 years of cannabis prohibition has borne this out and has instead had the unintended consequence of putting many hundreds of thousands of otherwise law abiding people in jail.
The money now spent on arrest, prosecution and prison could easily pay for drug treatment and honest anti drug advertising.
I firmly believe the time has come to take a stand for personal privacy and individual liberty.

Posted by: solus2sail | April 25, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I do not want my children using any drug and have shown them they are all bad for you, cigaretts, including pot are bad for your health. Sucking smoke from a burning ember into your lungs is distructive. Alcohol distroyst your body as does heroin and cocain and other drugs. Having said that, I am open to listening to the leagalization argument. Yes, me, Mark Wright, the ultra conservative. I know I will not use them .... am pretty sure my children will not use them. I know the country is paying a terrable cost in healthcare for the irrisponability of oterhs but we are going to do that anyway.

If it puts the drug dealers out of businss ... maybe. I am open to listen. I see massive death on the highways ... but I am willing to listen. I don't by the benefit from taxation argument because I hate the thought of new taxes of any kind. We tax ourselfs too much as it is. Margret Thatcher was right when she said "The biggest problem with socialisms is sooner or later you run out of other peoples money. We will soon be there ... and we had just started with our socialist President and congress.

Posted by: markandbeth | April 26, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I hope Howard Woodridge is aware of the 100% support that is in evidence among the readers of this article. Progressives are so afraid of being tarred by the Republican smear machine that things won't really change until enough Conservatives, like Mark Wright, will come forward and stand up for reason and sanity.

Alcohol Prohibition lasted only 14 years. If we take 1980 as the start of the so-called "war on drugs", the logical conclusion is that people today are twice as stupid as their great-grandparents.

Posted by: fraidykat2000 | April 28, 2009 12:07 AM | Report abuse

I was thinking about setting up a still, but who buy the product from me when they can get better quality from a store.

Posted by: edmundsingleton1 | April 28, 2009 2:22 AM | Report abuse

Term Limits are the answer to an effective government.

Posted by: FrankAdair | April 28, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

One of the problems faced in getting law enforcement to step up to the realities of legalizing drugs is that so much of their budget is supplied to to just that: arrest people for drugs. Another frightening factor is that we now have "for profit prisons"...they need prisoners to stay in business.
Until we, as a country, realize we're fighting and losing a war with ourselves, I can't see lawmakers making any changes to the status quo. Write your senators today.

Posted by: greenrichy | April 28, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Howard is a jewel. And 1000% right in every aspect of his drug reform advocacy.


Sen. Jim Webb's bill S-714 "The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009" http://mysite.verizon.net/aahpat/aandc/s714.htm


Posted by: aahpat | April 28, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

‘Legalization, For The Children’

In the War on Drugs: Addict dealers and gangsters don’t ‘just say no' when children come seeking drugs.

Children too often don’t ‘just say no’ when addict dealers and gangsters entice them into drug use.

Legalized and regulated drug distribution would put responsible adult supervision in control of drug sales. Responsible licensed adults who, unlike the addict dealers and gangsters of prohibition, would “just say no” when curious children seek to buy.

Posted by: aahpat | April 28, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I read most of everyone's comments and it seems there is universal support for legalization for the reasons stated in the article. I'm surprised though that another factor for legalization has not been discussed. That is the affect routine violation of the law has upon our American society and government. Conservatives should be more worried about that then maintaining ineffective laws.

Influencing this thought is my own waking up to the wide spread use of drugs among young Americans (younger than me at 53).
I wonder what percentage of Americans do use drugs and by what age groups. I am sure the percentage of over 20 and under 40 is greater now than it was before, to say nothing of those younger than 20. The number of baby boomers who have the inappropriate label of "old pot-heads" I bet isn't anything near the number of younger Americans who light up.

The point I'm trying to make is that the war of drugs has created a generation of Americans who routinely break the law and see nothing wrong. What long term affect will that have on a society and government that is suppose to be based upon the rule of law?

The slippery slope of drug use isn't nearly as slippery as the slope of acceptable lawlessness. Its time to change the law to fit the times and the behavior of Americans. And to get back to letting Americans make their own life decisions for themselves.

Posted by: dave@ir-tech.com | April 28, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

If you live in California and favor legalizing marijuana for adults, YOU can make it happen. Tell your state representatives to support California Assembly Bill 390. It's easy. Visit yes390.org

Posted by: AB390 | April 29, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The best argument for decriminalization/legalization is the empirical evidence of success in Portugal over a ten year period. Contrary to the pro-prohibitionst fear stories, drug use and other problems have dropped off significantly.

Someone above wondered about drug use in the U.S. From my research, it's about 7% and addiction rate of around 1.2% -- which is exactly the same numbers from 1890 when anyone could go legally buy any number of narcotic substances.

And one little factoid about repeal of alcohol prohibition: When FDR took over, his administration looked at past revenues and found the alcohol tax was one of the best performers. Voila! follow the money ...

Posted by: Novista | May 1, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

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