Each year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) there’s an anomaly walking about the halls: A tall former Michigan detective rocking a cowboy hat, an enviable mustache and his signature tee emblazoned with “COPS SAY LEGALIZE DRUGS ASK ME WHY.”
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While that catches your attention, if you walk up to the front of now-retired law enforcement official, Howard Wooldridge's shirt, you’re instantly arrested by the words: "COPS SAY LEGALIZE HEROIN.”
That’s a bold statement anywhere, especially inside the belly of the conservative beast known as CPAC. At least when it comes to heroin.
When it comes to marijuana, Wooldridge isn’t revolutionary at all. That is if you believe polls showing as many as 55 percent of Republicans support legalizing cannabis (along with 78 percent of Democrats, but this story isn’t about them!).
“This is a colossal failure,” Wooldridge told Wikileaf. “There's heroin in every small town in America. So why are we continuing the same stupid prohibition blah, blah, blah, blah, blah?”
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That’s why Wooldridge is shocked that this year's CPAC – like last year's – has no cannabis panel over the four days of speeches, breakout sessions and – of course – bong rips (CPAC attendees are known to party, after all, and with so many libertarians in the mix, that means the sweet aroma of Mary Jane is often wafting through the air once the sun sets). Still, the chair of the group who hosts CPAC, lobbyist and organizer Matt Schlapp, doesn’t want to go there.
“I asked Matt Schlapp two years ago, during CPAC, why can't we have a panel discussion titled, ‘War on Drugs and Analysis After 50 years?” Wooldridge said. “Later, after CPAC, I went down to his headquarters downtown [Washington]. Talked to three of his staffers, made a 30-minute presentation of: here's what it would look like.”
Their response still echoes to this day, he says.
“No way,” Wooldridge said. “[Schlapp] didn't do it last year. He's not doing it this year. He won't do it next year.”
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So why the push back? Wooldridge has a theory.
“My guess? It’s because the oldest richest donors of ACU would have a conniption, hairy ass fit,” Wooldridge said.
“In my opinion – this is all opinion; educated guess – he cannot piss off his rich donors,” Wooldridge said.
Even Anti-Pot Republicans Want to Talk Pot
Still, even if Schlapp (who didn’t respond to a request for comment) doesn’t want conservatives to talk drug policy, even anti-marijuana Republicans want to have that conversation.
“I think that would be useful,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told Wikileaf. “Clearly the people who push legalization have had kind of the upper hand in public relations.”
Harris is a medical doctor and is likely the fiercest opponent of cannabis on Capitol Hill. He, basically, single-handedly got former House Speaker Paul Ryan and the majority of the GOP to block the District of Columbia – which Congress has control of because it’s the federal city -from setting up its own regulatory system for cannabis after local voters approved recreational marijuana back in 2014.
The conservative congressman does support more research on the medicinal qualities of cannabis. While he thinks the research will prove he’s right and that marijuana is bad, the head of Congress’ cannabis caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), is supportive of the effort too, just for the opposite reason.
Even if he may be proved wrong – or right? – eventually, Harris says the GOP shouldn’t try and brush this topic under the rug.
“I think there should be more venues for this broad discussion,” Harris said. “I think the country is ready for a larger discussion. I think once that larger discussion occurs, we actually push it back a little bit while we’re having that discussion, while we’re doing that research.”
For Harris, there’s simply no reason not to talk about marijuana, especially because everyone seems to be talking about marijuana. He says conservatives are going to lose this battle unless they join this ongoing national conversation.
“I don't view this as conservative or liberal issue, necessarily. I, honestly, view it as the people who are informed versus people who are less informed,” Harris said. “I think if we just inform more people about the hazards of legalization of recreational marijuana, I think we gain in that.”
The Raging Opioid Crisis
Harris doesn’t seem to be an outlier. The more detective Wooldridge rocks his pro-drug wares in the halls of CPAC, the more attendees of all ages approach him and inquire about why a former law enforcement official is now so pro-drugs and marijuana (which is medicine to many, thus not a drug).
While there was a rotating cast of more than 10 college-age kids who approached and engaged Wooldridge in the 15 or so minutes I spent with him, he says it’s not just young folks interested in the topic.
“I'm getting guys 50, 60, 70 [years old] – women 50, 60, 70 [approaching me],” Wooldridge said. “It's changing.”
He says that’s sadly for a very logical reason.
“Everybody here – the 12,000 people – all know somebody who's died from heroin or addicted to it,” Wooldridge said before bashing the failed decade’s long war on drugs (and minorities through it). “They all know this isn't working and never will.”