Former law enforcement officer now works to promote cannabis legalization.
Diane Goldstein sits on the board of directors of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a non-profit made up of current, and former, law enforcement officers (LEOs) who now oppose the drug war. While these judges, prosecutors, cops and all manner of LEOs once protected and served the interests of the drug war, they are now actively working to end it.
Goldstein is a 21-year veteran of law enforcement who retired as the first female lieutenant of the police department in Redondo Beach, California. She spoke to Cannabis Now about why she became a police officer, what prompted her to join LEAP and what she sees down the road towards legalization. For LEAP, legalization isn’t just about cannabis, the organization wants all drugs sensibly controlled and regulated. LEAP opposes the policy of prohibition itself because it is more harmful than the drugs it exists to prohibit.
What originally made you want to enter law enforcement?
Law enforcement was supposed to be a part time gig for me, what I really wanted to be was an attorney. At the time, I was waitressing at a restaurant where a lot of LEOs came in to eat. I needed more benefits than waitressing provided so I made the switch. We had a much different view of law enforcement back then than we do now. Sure, we may have had some fear of them, but unless we were doing something bad they were pretty much just an ancillary parent figure who understood that “kids do stupid things, but they shouldn’t go to jail for them.” For me, it was about giving back to the community.
What were your views on pot while you were an officer?
Pot should not be criminalized but I had a job to do, though I had a wide degree of discretion in how I did it. I’ve always felt marijuana was a substance safer than alcohol, but I also felt it shouldn’t be used by kids, just like alcohol or tobacco. I used in high school, and I was open about that when I was hired as a LEO and it almost prevented me from getting the job. This was an early example for me on how the collateral consequences of our drug laws could be harmful.
After more than 20 years in law enforcement, you switched sides in the drug war and now you are a member of LEAP. What made you make such a major shift?
National drug policy should be based on one thing only, and that is public health. We need harm reduction, such as LEOs carrying Naloxone for heroin overdoses. I believe that our drug laws are beginning to change and law enforcers are starting to slowly shift how they view drugs. With cannabis, the big issue is that LEOs still treat cannabis like plutonium instead of the agricultural commodity it is.
I was very close to my older brother, who suffered from mental health issues. At a young age, he started smoking, drinking and using illicit substances. We didn’t know at the time but he was bipolar and he was self-medicating for that. I witnessed his journey through the mental health and criminal justice systems and its impact on our family. A year or so before I retired in 2004, he moved in with my husband and I. Things improved when he was living with us and I got to see firsthand how race, class, addiction and mental illness intersect with the drug war. While he was living with us, he was arrested along with his girlfriend, and he was jailed for three months. His public defender proved that the police lied on the probable cause needed to search the room where they were staying and got him released. Unfortunately, he died from an accidental overdose in 2007. The grief caused by his death helped to fuel my activism.
In 2010, Proposition 19 got onto the ballot in California and that connected me to LEAP. I saw a debate between Judge Jim Gray and a police chief over Prop 19, and Judge Gray introduced me to Neill Franklin, our executive director. My involvement with LEAP began with marijuana but has evolved into total criminal justice reform. One of the failures of the drug war is the damage it has caused to community relations. The drug war changed LEOs from being peace officers who worked collaboratively with citizens, into drug warriors. The policy of prohibition has contributed to death, disease and addiction while fueling violence and corruption, not just in America but throughout the world.
Do you have anything you would like to add?
It is amazing how big of an impact women are having on this industry, especially in positions of leadership. I am most proud of my work with women’s advocacy and business groups, namely Moms United, they are a group of women who have lost children or family members to the drug war and now speak out about the dangers they see in prohibition. Women are bringing consensus building to the conversation, it’s not just advocacy but capitalism with a consciousness.
When it comes to marijuana, while I sometimes find the regulatory models troubling, activists need to work with legislatures to make our voices are heard. I oppose CBD-only legislation because it continues to criminalize people and while not providing safe access to patients who need whole-plant medicine.
For me, this is a social justice and human rights issue and it is time to get law enforcement and the criminal justice system out of it. LEAP is not just a drug policy organization but a human rights organization, because drug policy, human rights and social justice are all intertwined.