On the back of and alongside his 9-year-old, one-eyed horse Misty is a
terribly slow way to cross the United States, but Howard Wooldridge
wouldn't have it any other way.

Just this once, though.

The 52-year-old Texan -- wearing a dirty-white cowboy hat and white
T-shirt bearing the message "Cops say legalize pot. Ask me why" -- and
his four-legged friend have been on the road from Denver since July.
That's when the two began the third of three legs walking the country
as Wooldridge shares his belief that drug prohibition should come to
an end. The first two legs of the "3,100 miles of hard livin' " were
completed during the past two summers.

Wooldridge is vice president of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,
or LEAP, aimed at educating people on the perceived failure of current
drug policy and supporting the legalization of drugs.

Wooldridge, a retired police officer, said the so-called war on drugs
has been a failure because the availability of drugs remains. Make
drugs legal and away go the "bloodsucking drug dealers and their free
samples." He said America spends $60 billion a year on the war on
drugs, and that money could be spent elsewhere.

He also downplays the role law enforcement has played in fighting that
war.

"We have never made any difference and we never will," he said.
"There's always someone desperate enough and stupid enough to sell
drugs."

"We get killed every day in this drug war," he added.

Wooldridge said the cornerstone of the issue is personal
responsibility. He doesn't buy into the idea that millions of people
will wait until marijuana or other drugs become legal to begin using
them. The small percentage who use hard drugs are going to do so
whether they are legal or not.

He's confident the prohibition will end, although he believes it could
take up to 10 years to accomplish it.

Wooldridge and Misty will saddle up today and head west toward
Philomath. Their journey will come to an end Saturday, when they
expect to reach Newport. There his brother will be waiting for them.
Misty, who lost her right eye several years ago when she was kicked by
another horse, won't see another saddle for three months.

"It's a bittersweet moment for me," he said, noting that when his
journey is finished, he won't be able to meet any more nice people
along the way, but that he's glad it's almost over. He has no plans to
do it again.

Woodridge said many people have opened their doors and wallets simply
because they see a man and a horse. He calls the people of Oregon the
kindest and most well versed in drug policy and drug problems he's met
on his trip.

"You go into a town, and stop at the 7-Eleven and somebody says, 'Hey,
you need a place to stay the night?' " He said. "It's just been wonderful."

And the sides of the road in Oregon are lined with "a lot less crap
than any other state, and I've been to all 50," he said.

Wooldridge found a couple in south Corvallis who allowed him to stay a
few days. Monday was a rest day for him and Misty before they
continued west.

But not everything has been so easy and everyone so
friendly.

Narrow shoulders, with just a few feet to spare, have caused a few
moments of terror. So do a few cruel intentions.

"I've had people shake my hand, give me a hug, and I've had death
threats. It's A to Z," he said. "But the majority have been very positive."

Among his 16 pounds of luggage, Wooldridge carries a 9-millimeter
handgun. Just for protection, he says.

Not everyone who has helped Wooldridge and his horse has agreed with
his stance on drugs. In fact, a few days ago, he stayed with a state
trooper who disagreed with his entire argument.

When Wooldridge asked for help, " 'He said OK, I don't agree with you,
but you and your horse need somewhere to stay,' " he said.

In Missouri, Wooldridge met a man who rented a horse trailer for him
and let him stay with him for two nights.

"The St. Louis Dispatch (newspaper) contacted him, and he disagreed
with everything I said," he said.

Whether he finds people who concur with him, it makes no
difference.

"Whatever I can do to end drug prohibition will be good for the
community, good for the country."


Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2003
Source: Corvallis Gazette-Times (OR)
Copyright: 2003, Lee Enterprises
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