Legalize Drugs, Former Cop Says

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Howard Wooldridge is on a horseback crusade across the country, preaching about the failure of the war on drugs and the benefits of legalizing them.

"Cops say legalize it ... ask me why," reads Wooldridge's T-shirt. The Texas man was a police officer for 18 years and is now media director for an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

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Howard Wooldridge, a former police officer, advocates legalizing drugs to reduce violent crime while creating a new tax base.

"We know from the Swiss experience, that if you legalize and regulate these hard drugs, you would cut the felony crime rate by 60 percent," Wooldridge said. "They would be regulated and taxed just like alcohol. Taking drugs is a bad choice, but it is the human condition to take those drugs."

Wooldridge said the law enforcement approach to the drug problem is an expensive band-aid on a festering wound.

"The vast majority of cops will tell me privately that they believe marijuana should be legalized, regulated and taxed," Wooldridge said. "In talking to many cops, and it's my personal experience that in my 18 years of service, I never had a call where someone high on marijuana caused any problem -- no fatal accidents, no homicides, no aggravated assaults."

"That's a fairly interesting point of view. I wonder where he has been a police officer, because that is a very unlikely statement," Payson Police Commander Don Engler said. "You would be hard pressed to find another police officer who would make that statement."

"What positive thing has come out of the war on drugs?" Wooldridge asked. "Is it reducing felony crime? Is it reducing rates of death and disease? Is it keeping drug dealers away from our kids? If you legalize, regulate and tax drugs, it would take away the black market and reduce the crime rate."

Engler said decriminalizing drugs would only aggravate the crime problem by making drugs available. He said Payson's crime statistics show that sending drug dealers and users to prison has reduced the theft and burglary rates.

"Several years ago when we started our Meth Enforcement Program, our burglary rate was skyrocketing and every year that the program has been in place, our burglary rate has dropped."

Engler said legalizing illegal drugs would cause enormous problems.

"If marijuana were legal, we would have more impaired drivers on the road," he said.

Wooldridge said the billions of dollars spent fighting the war on drugs could be saved and used toward more productive public safety efforts such as catching child molesters.

He said drug use should be up to the individual and not the laws of the state. He is quick to acknowledge that he does not use drugs or encourage people to use drugs.

"Most people are smart enough not to use drugs and making them legal or illegal doesn't make a difference," Wooldridge said. "After 35 years and a half a trillion dollars of our tax money, drugs are cheaper, stronger and easily available to every kid in America."

"It's really about making our community a better, safer place to live," Engler said. "I think the way we have done things has made Payson a better place to live."

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