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Although women have served in leadership roles throughout our past, I believe our capabilities are still untapped, not just in drug policy reform, but in many other fields as well. The biggest roadblocks to women in leadership are not just placed on us by society, but by ourselves through our acceptance of the roles dealt to us. I have never self-identified as a feminist; yet I recognize if it were not for the feminist movement I would not have had the ability to have a successful law enforcement career while simultaneously raising my son. While it was difficult, I truly believed I had it all. My career path provided the framework for many things — my path to activism, my parenting skills and my ability to become a leader. As the second generation of the vanguard of women in law enforcement in the 80’s, my on-the-job training was navigated through an undefined road map as a trailblazer in policing. My path to leadership was laden with lessons as I balanced being a strong female with a male-dominated culture.
The contingent of female officers at any given time was about 5% of the total department during my career. Because of these low numbers, I felt my competence was a direct reflection on all female officers, and would have an impact on the future of female officers in the agency.
I spent my formative years constantly feeling I needed to prove my ability. My standard was not mere proficiency but excellence. Those early years of law enforcement exposed me to many things, good and bad. I have seen the best and worst of people in the general population, as well as both extremes in my co-workers which taught me how to not take things personally, to rise above the fray and most importantly, it instilled in me the strength and determination to redefine myself and evolve through life.
My years in law enforcement forged my character like a sword over a fire. They taught me leadership is many things. Leadership is consensus building, mentoring, decision-making and the ability to bring out the best, not just in yourself, but in others as well. Ultimately, good leadership can transform a group, an organization, even a nation. Women have been doing this since the beginning of time, nevertheless we don’t recognize the inherent leadership traits we have and the potential to improve our families and communities. In a December 2012 Psychology Today article titled Why Women May Be Better Leaders Than Men, Ray Williams validates many of the things I believe are undervalued in leadership not just in law enforcement, but in society overall. It is a fascinating article that uses scientific research and surveys as well as interviews with industry leaders who discuss what women leaders bring to the table. With leadership traits that include compassion, creativity, intelligence, honesty and the ability to think both analytically and strategically – why have we not seen more women leaders emerge in the field of cannabis policy reform?
“With leadership traits that include compassion, creativity, intelligence, honesty and the ability to think both analytically and strategically – why have we not seen more women leaders emerge in the field of cannabis policy reform?”
I have my personal and professional opinion the lack of women leaders stems from a variety of cultural issues including but not limited to the objectification of women in advertising. In many ways this objectification has contributed to many professional women distancing themselves from leadership roles, but I would argue it is our roles as women, mothers and professionals which qualifies us as the most potent advocates for the cause. Women and mothers have long shared a moral imperative to protect and nurture society. We are the caretakers and the healers of the world.
The role of women as leaders in cannabis policy reform has changed significantly since Proposition 19, the failed 2010 campaign to legalize marijuana in California. One need only look to the faces of the successful legalization campaigns in Washington and Colorado this past November. These were the faces of moms, female criminal justice professionals and the campaigns’ talented spokeswomen, Alison Holcomb and Betty Aldworth. Their victories have helped to expand the opportunities for new women leaders to emerge across our nation. This unlikely coalition of women leaders is not pro-drug or anti-drug: they are women who feel they are obligated to end prohibition because of its negative effects on our society. I came to drug policy reform leadership through a tortuous path. The drug-related death of my brother and my professional experience both tempered me and forced me to critically analyze our national drug policy. I concluded it was a failure. Since Proposition 19, I have advocated for the end of prohibition as a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of law enforcement professionals like myself who have come to a similar conclusion.
“This unlikely coalition of women leaders is not pro-drug or anti-drug: they are women who feel they are obligated to end prohibition because of its negative effects on our society.”
Back on Mother’s Day, 2011 I wrote an article reflecting what this day meant and still means to me. I stated back then “each year I reflect back on my obligation as a mom and what it means to me, my son and to our communities.” I used a quote from Thoreau, “Aim above morality, be not simply good, be good for something.” My many roles in life: activist, student, mentor, mother, grandmother, wife, daughter, sister and friend have only been enhanced by embarking on my own personal mission. By being “good for something,” I bring out the many inherent leadership traits many women share. By defining my purpose, I have become stronger. I continue to speak the truth, in spite of pressure from groups content with the status quo. In finding this purpose, I have been transformed through the power of new friendships and through the horrors of injustice to continue to fight to make not just my life better, but also to speak for those without a voice.
Mother Teresa once said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” I believe it will be the healing power of women based on our love for our children, and for everyone’s children, which will help end the destructive policy of prohibition. This path is inevitable, but the timing to its end will be dictated through our ability to garner the support of other women willing to accept the leadership mantle and to join us in ending a policy that wages war not on enemy combatants, but on our neighbors, our family and our friends.