Wearing a giant fat suit or a Captain America costume is one way to get attention at CPAC. Wearing a cowboy hat and a T-shirt that reads "COPS SAY LEGALIZE POT. ASK ME WHY" is another.
Howard Wooldridge is a retired police detective who now lobbies Capitol Hill for his group "Citizens Opposing Prohibition" — the prohibition on marijuana. He made the New York Times in October of 2005 for riding a horse for seven months from Los Angeles to Times Square as a way to bring publicity to the absurdity of anti-marijuana laws. This weekend he's pleading his case at CPAC, and it's going better than you might expect.
"The reactions have been almost 100 percent in favor of what I'm doing," Wooldridge, who claims he hasn't smoked marijuana in thirty years, tells me. "I've had about three people in the last two days out of about 200 who do not like it." Particularly with this conservative crowd, Wooldridge debates his naysayers in terms of conservative principles. "Personal freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government are what conservatives believe in," he says. "And that's what I believe in. And thats what we should do with marijuana policy. I say, 'Give me a conservative reason to keep it going,' and they dont have any."
Progress is slow for Wooldridge, but rewarding. He's been coming to CPAC for the past six years, and says that four or five people have approached him over the past couple of days to tell them that, after mulling over his arguments from past CPACs, they now oppose marijuana prohibition as well. "I know from the feedback I'm getting that I'm making small gains every time I come here," he says. "If nothing else, I create a bone that people chew on after they leave."
I vastly underestimate Wooldridge's optimism when I ask the 60-year-old whether he thinks he'll see marijuana legalized in his lifetime. "I have medium confidence, if the economics stay roughly the same, five-to-eight years." And "if the economy gets worse," he suggests, and people start to realize how much revenue could be generated from regulating and taxing marijuana, "we might reduce that to three-to-five."
Not that Wooldridge wants the economy to get worse. But the end of Pot Prohibition wouldn't be a bad silver lining.