Experts Debate Legalization Issue

Howard Wooldridge spent almost two decades as a police officer fighting drug dealers and offenders. Time after time he busted people for possession, robbery and burglary related to drug addiction, and worst of all, he saw teenagers aspiring to be drug dealers.

Eventually, he grew tired of his seemingly futile task of regulating drugs, so he did what he saw as the only prudent thing — he quit.

Not only did he quit the force, he quit believing drug enforcement was valuable or necessary. In fact, he decided, it was counterproductive.

“Our nation’s policy, which is drug prohibition, is the engine which generates about 75 to 80 percent of felony crime,” Wooldridge said at a symposium called Illicit Drug Policy, Challenges and Solutions, which took place Thursday in the Student Center.

Wooldridge is the director of media coverage for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and one of many speakers offering his points of view at the symposium.

Most were not as pro-legalization as Wooldridge, instead opting for a middle ground, which was the entire point of the gathering, according to symposium director Chris Julian-Fralish, a graduate assistant in social work.

“This conference is not saying prohibition isn’t the answer,” Julian-Fralish said. “What this conference is doing is bringing together everyone to discuss whether prohibition is the answer.”

But Wooldridge’s passion, as well as being the only person in the room with a cowboy hat on, demanded attention, as did his controversial ideas. Legalization, he said, would lower the cost of drugs to the point addicts would not have to commit crimes to support their habits.

Many, including Adella Jordan-Luster, who holds a doctorate and is an assistant warden of programs at the Sheridan Correctional Center, refuted his opinion.

That idea, she said, will work for some; a reason for the drug problem is the government’s insistence on a blanket treatment for everyone. She said everyone responds to drugs differently and needs to come off them differently.

Jordan-Luster, like many at the symposium, talked about the need to focus on treatment in the drug epidemic, and that starts with the individual.

“It has to be individualized,” Jordan-Luster said, pointing out the significant role of social work in the fight against drugs. “What works for one person will not work for everyone.

Legalization may work for some, but it definitely won’t work for the majority.”