While dressed in a cowboy hat, boots and Wrangler jeans, Howard Wooldridge sits on his one-eyed American Paint horse, Misty. He looks like he could be out of a scene from a Western movie. Instead he is waving down traffic at the intersection Cherokee and Kettleman lanes.
Describing himself as a modern-day Paul Revere, Wooldridge, 59, has taken to the streets on horseback to encourage people to vote for Proposition 19, a statewide initiative to legalize pot.
As people drive through the Lodi intersection, they honk horns, give thumbs up, wave coffee cups and cheer.
“A majority of Californians believe the war on drugs is nonsense,” Wooldridge said.
The former Lansing, Mich. police detective wears a shirt that says in large letters “Cops Say Legalize Pot. Ask Me Why.” He also holds a sign that reads: “Control and Tax Cannabis. Yes on 19.”
As Misty tries to grab a carrot from Wooldridge’s jeans, he describes how he has ridden across the country while advocating for the legalization of marijuana for at least seven years.
Wooldridge said he has not smoked weed since college, which was 32 years ago.
He said he is not advocating for Prop. 19 because he is pro-marijuana; he is fighting against the prohibition of marijuana.
“We need to do what our grandparents did and repeal prohibition, and have marijuana controlled by the state,” Wooldridge said.
Opponents of the proposition argue that it has too many loopholes, will put public safety at risk and will not raise money for the state, according to the No on Prop. 19 website.
In his 18 years with the Lansing, Mich. police department, Wooldridge never received a call complaining about marijuana. He did respond to 1,300 calls for alcohol abuse.
He understands people’s concerns about marijuana and knows people can be influenced from too much pot. He remembers a roommate who smoked every day, flunked out of school and was drafted for the Vietnam War.
But he said weed is safer than alcohol, and does not cause people to act violently.
“Marijuana makes you indifferent, so you don’t do anything reckless or stupid,” Wooldridge said.
His faithful companion, Misty, lost her eye when she was kicked by another horse about 11 years ago, but that has not stopped her from traveling.
“It’s a portable chair, and the horse grabs the attention,” he said.
Before taking her on the road, he spent 6 months training her to not react to city noise like fire engines, horn honking or gunshots.
In 2003, he completed a 3,100-mile horseback ride from Georgia to Oregon with just a tent and his T-shirts calling for legalization. It took him six months.
In 2005, he made another 3,300 mile trip from Los Angeles to New York.
“When (Misty) smelled salt water in Los Angeles, I think she said, 'Not again!'” he said. “In Battery Park in New York, I promised her that was it. She was done with long-riding.”
Wooldridge started touring California on Sept. 1 and plans to continue through the election. While he still rides Misty, who is 16, on street corners, she now rides in a trailer, instead of him riding her from city to city.
During his travels, Wooldridge said he has met police officers from all over the nation also believe in legalizing marijuana, but they cannot be public about it. If they did campaign for legalization, he said people would think they are smoking marijuana or likely to not enforce the law.
“An active duty police officer cannot say, 'I agree!'” Wooldridge said. “It’s career suicide.”