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One of the leading figures in Orange County's movement to legalize marijuana used to arrest people for smoking it. As a cop in Redondo Beach during the 1980s and 1990s, Diane Goldstein worked in the police department's special investigative unit, which essentially functioned as a narcotics squad. She loved being a cop, enough that she became the city's first female officer to reach the rank of lieutenant. After nearly three decades on the force, she retired in 2004. It was then that she started to question whether going after drugs was the right career choice.
A Tustin resident since 1994, Goldstein never imagined she'd become an anti-drug-war activist. But in 2007, her brother died of a drug overdose. His death reminded her of something that had always bugged her about police work: Every time you arrested a drug dealer, another one would pop up. Meanwhile, criminalizing the behavior of drug addicts did absolutely nothing to help them and arguably drew important resources away from treating their illnesses.
"What the drug war has caused me to really ask is what is ultimately the role of policing," she says. "The drug war really turned us from serving our constituents. We're peace officers. There is a significant difference between being a peace officer and engaging in this war mentality and policing people and stigmatizing large segments of our society."
Looking back, Goldstein says, she'd known that the War On Drugs was doomed to failure ever since Judge Jim Gray officially declared it so on the steps of the Orange County Courthouse some two decades ago. But it wasn't until 2009 that Goldstein took steps to actually end it by joining the campaign for Proposition 19, which would have legalized recreational marijuana in California; the measure failed at the polls under a withering assault by law-enforcement lobbying groups.
That year, she also joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the sole cop group that openly opposes the drug war. Goldstein says she understands why many law-enforcement officials oppose legalization. "Prohibition makes law enforcement's job easier," she says. "One of the biggest reasons I hear from cops for why they oppose legal marijuana is that it will diminish probable cause to arrest people."
Goldstein is currently working on behalf of LEAP with the Drug Policy Alliance to get another legalization proposal before the voters by 2016, seeing how the state's elected leadership remains beholden to the reefer-madness lobby.
"The police chiefs and officer unions are doing anything they can to impede reform on marijuana and drug policy," says Goldstein. "Of course they are opposing it because if marijuana is legal, they will not make as much money. . . . It's all about the money. We need to evolve as a society. Everyone is demanding it."