View Full Version : Olive Branch: Former law enforcement officer calls war on drugs a ‘failure’

04-14-2004, 08:51 PM
OLIVE BRANCH — Mississippi is known as a conservative state, so it was with a bit of skepticism that members of the Olive Branch Rotary Club heard a presentation Tuesday that advocated the legalization of hard drugs.

Howard J. Wooldridge, a 15-year law enforcement veteran, is the media director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibi-tion).
“The war on drugs is a failure,” Wooldridge said. “Prohibition of alcohol, as everyone knows, was a failure. The war on drugs, as initiative by President Nixon, has not worked. Our drug policy is the problem.”
Wooldridge, who served as a state trooper in Michigan for 15 years, said the drug prohibition effort has shifted the role of law enforcement from that of public safety to personal safety.
“Personal responsibility is the key,” Wooldridge said. “What you put in your mouth is your responsibility.”
Wooldridge said three decades of fighting drugs has cost the U.S. over half a trillion tax dollars with little to show for it.
The court system is choked with ever-increasing prosecutions of nonviolent drug violations and the prison population has quadrupled, Woolridge said. Building prisons, he said, is now the nation’s fastest-growing industry.
“We have imprisoned more than 2.2 million of our citizens, and every year we arrest an additional 1.6 million for nonviolent drug offenses,” he said. “That is more per capita than any other country in the world.”
The United States has 5 percent of the worlds’ population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. “Money that is going to build prisons should be used to build schools,” he said. “Money is being used to hire prison guards instead of teachers.”
And what has all that effort provided? “Despite all that, illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent and easier to get than they were 30 years ago,” he said.
Wooldridge illustrated his talk with statistics showing the price of heroin in 1970 for one dose on the street was $6 with a purity of 1.5 percent. In 1980 the same dose cost $3.90 with a 3.6 percent purity. Today the cost of a heroin high is 80 cents with a 38 percent purity.
“This is a record of failure,” he said of efforts to stem the tide of drugs entering the U.S.
He estimated, conservatively, that 75 percent of felonies committed in the U.S. each year, including burglaries, armed robberies, stolen cars and murders, are drug related.
Wooldridge said that while the concept of legalizing drugs seems radical, it is gaining more and more support. And lest it be perceived as a liberal notion, he said such conservatives as commentator William F. Buckley and former Secretary of State George Schultz are in favor of it.
He said LEAP also has a broad base of support that spans the political spectrum.
Its advisory board includes four U.S. District Court judges, former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, former New York Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy, and Larry Campbell, mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Wooldridge said he is not daunted by skepticism and hopes to see significant changes in the nation’s drug policy in a decade.
Some 39 states have reduced penalties on drug changes in recent years. In Texas, where Wooldridge has spoken to legislators, laws have been passed eliminate jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. The offenders are instead sentenced to treatment programs. “And that is from Texas,” he said. “One of the most conservatives states in the Union.”
Wooldridge said the notion that legalizing these drugs will open the flood gates to millions of new addicts is a myth. “Smart folks aren’t going to use it,” he said. “That’s a red herring being put out by the politicians.”
LEAP, said Wooldridge, is working now to enlarge its membership across the country, especially with the addition of law enforcement officials who work with the drug problem on a daily basis. The group is also seeking citizen support and conducts talks about the problem with groups like the Rotary Club.

RINO DOLBI/Times News Staff

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