Howard “Cowboy” Wooldridge, a former police officer who is now a national advocate for repealing marijuana laws, put his beliefs on a T-shirt that he proudly wears everywhere: “Cops Say Legalize Pot. Ask Me Why.”
Wooldridge wore the shirt Thursday night when speaking to more than 20 people at the Northern Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) meeting in Falls Church. For the last 15 years – the last eight full time – Wooldridge has traveled the country spreading his opinion that the prohibition of marijuana should be repealed. Wooldridge retired after an 18-year career in law enforcement in Michigan.
Some NORML members at the meeting shared Wooldridge’s thoughts on the issue.
“The national polls say 54 percent of the people in the country are in favor of treating marijuana like alcohol,” Wooldridge said. “Let the commonwealth run the commonwealth.”
With marijuana now legal on a limited basis in Colorado, Washington state and elsewhere, some believe it’s time to let the individual states decide how to govern marijuana laws.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia signed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Michele Leonhart asking that they take no action against people whose activities related to marijuana are in compliance with state law, according to a November story in the Huffington Post. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado wrote the letter.
NORML’s mission, according to its website, is to “move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the repeal of marijuana prohibition so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.”
According to a Virginia State Police report, about 22,500 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2011. From 2010 to 2011, almost 2,500 first-time marijuana offenders did jail time, according to the report.
Robert Sharpe, a Virginia NORML board member, said those arrests will follow the offenders for the rest of their lives and if marijuana was legalized, those people wouldn’t have those marks on their records.
“Virginia is behind the curve but who knows, we could be surprised,” Sharpe said.
It comes down to money, said Wooldridge — who was sporting a white cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a big shiny belt buckle — that prevents marijuana from being legalized. He said pharmaceutical drug companies, counselors and public and private prisons that house offenders with marijuana arrests all benefit from keeping the drug illegal.
“This has been a lucrative business for the police and prison industry,” Wooldridge said. “We need to treat this substance like alcohol. It’s safer than alcohol.”