Catching Up With Drug War Activist Diane Wattles Goldstein

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Diane Goldstein, a frequent contributor to Ladybud Magazine and The Huffington Post, as well a well-respected speaker and lecturer on Drug Policy Reform, sat down with LB’s Publisher Diane Fornbacher to talk about some current world events about drug legalization, the many groups with whom she works, her favorite sources of news, and much more.  Traveling all over the globe for reform, Goldstein is one of drug policy reform’s busiest activists and we are delighted to catch up with her. 

LADYBUD MAGAZINE: Given the recently leaked document to The Guardian revealing the divisions of countries (especially in south America) with the UN on the Drug War, what do you believe is a good middle-of-the-road policy about drug use and drug abuse?

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Diane Goldstein at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Reform Conference in Denver, CO October 2013. PHOTO CREDIT: Diane Fornbacher/Ladybud Magazine

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: My middle-of-the-road starts with the control and regulation of marijuana for adults, a protected homeopathic medical marijuana model, and for other scheduled substances to shift the emphasis from the criminal justice system to a public health model with no criminal penalties associated with simple possession similar to Portugal. The issue will be in the middle of the road you will still have a thriving black market. So as Peter Christ, one of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition’s (LEAP) founders stated in the past, the ideal will be legalization of all drugs and what he means is “Legalization simply means the elimination of Schedule I. All other discussion is about regulation.”


LB: There is a lot of concern coming from the medical marijuana community that overall cannabis legalization will leave patients fending for themselves in a market that does not specialize or cater to their specific needs. Where do you stand on this?

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: I fully support a two-tier system for marijuana. We as a country have finally accepted that there is both adult-responsible use of marijuana as well as an expanding market for medical marijuana. I believe that as we legalize across the states for either medical or adult use that we can enhance and support safe-access for patients. Supporting adult use does not and should not undermine patient’s rights. From a regulatory perspective medical marijuana should be taxed at a lower rate, and (should have) provisions that support safety standards, as well as ensuring the ability to personally cultivate if a patient so desires.

LB: Most people are aware that you are heavily involved with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) as a speaker but you also work in tandem with many other reform groups like Moms United. Can you tell us more about Moms and other groups that have benefited from your expertise and philosophies on drug policy reform? 

Diane Goldstein and Gretchen Bergman of Moms United joining Caravan For Peace in 2012 PHOTO: Medical Marijuana 411/Daily Dose

Diane Goldstein and Gretchen Bergman of Moms United joining Caravan For Peace in 2012 PHOTO: Medical Marijuana 411/Daily Dose

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: I believe that women have traditionally been underutilized in drug policy reform but I am thrilled to be on the vanguard as it is changing before our eyes. One of my goals working in the reform movement is to work and align closely with other women that represent the multi-faceted roles that we serve in our communities. I helped to cement LEAP’s relationship with Moms United through a collaborative partnership called Moms & Cops. Who better than women who are the emotional caretakers in our society to show the damage of the drug war and how it has affected our personal lives?

READ Diane Goldstein: The Empty Chair at The Holiday Table 

I also belong to the NORML Women’s Alliance (NWA) despite not being either a medical marijuana patient or consumer. The NWA represents the evolution and maturation of the cannabis movement and industry that helped to achieve the many successes we have seen in the last few years. Both these organizations will help guide the national conversation as we remove the stigma of drug addiction, support safe and sensible cannabis laws that protect minors, as well as supporting the responsible adult consumer.

Ladies of the movement at Drug Policy Alliance's Reform Conference Event October 2013 Sharon Ravert on left back row with Diane Goldstein. Diane Fornbacher, and Charmie Gholson with Mara Felsen in front  PHOTO: Terrance Wall/Ladybud Magazine

Ladies of the movement at Drug Policy Alliance’s Reform Conference Event with Sharon Ravert left back row, Diane Goldstein, Diane Fornbacher, and Charmie Gholson with Mara Felsen in front PHOTO: Terrance Wall/Ladybud Magazine

LB: In following you on Twitter and Facebook, it’s obvious you’re a big fan of Radley Balko, senior writer and investigative reporter for Huffington Post and formerly of Reason Magazine. Can you tell us why you follow him and a few of your other favorite go-to writers for reform news?

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: One of the main reasons why you see so many Balko tweets is that his work addresses one of the primary failures of the drug war: the militarization of your local police force. One of LEAP’s focuses has been on how the drug war has changed the relationship between cops and our communities. We have evolved from being “Peace Officers” and serving our communities to policing people. Balko shows the link between the flow of military style weapons through the federal government to local cops starting with Nixon, but expanded after 9/11. Both the war on terror and drugs continue to contribute to the subversion of our civil liberties, in addition to the problems of mass incarceration in America. Some of my other drug war go-to writers are David Downs (San Francisco Chronicle), Pete Guither, (The Drug War Rant), Mike Riggs (The Atlantic) and anything from Reason Magazine.

LB: Families are continually broken up over the drug war in many ways: CPS seizing kids because they “anticipate” parents will neglect kids if they use cannabis, SWAT raids terrorizing the wrong house and shooting people as well as pets, overdose deaths due to a lack of Good Samaritan laws that would help people avoid criminal prosecution for helping an addict in need of medical attention, just to name a few. As a retired lieutenant for the Redondo Beach Police Department, what is your take on all this lack of compassion and waste of dollars enforcing drug laws that don’t seem to work?


“As Americans, we have to start asking our policymakers tough questions and demanding that our national drug policy be based on scientific research and best practices that are based on compassion with a respect for human rights.”

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Drug policy reform is and will continue to be the linchpin to many issues that affect our communities and our nation. As Americans, we have to start asking our policymakers tough questions and demanding that our national drug policy be based on scientific research and best practices that are based on compassion with a respect for human rights. We have to ask for metrics that matter, not just arrests and conviction rates but looking at how policing affects public health outcomes, safety, and what’s best for our families.

We are at the tipping point publicly on marijuana, but law enforcement is just at a turning point. But there are glimmers of hope as I see police agencies across the country start to adapt. Most notable has been the Seattle Police department who is using harm reduction to divert low-level, non-violent drug dealers and users with treatment and services as an alternative to taking them to jail, in addition to publicly supporting the will of the voters with the passage of I-502 this last year.

CLICK: Going to Washington State to Toke Legally? Here’s What You Need to Know

LB: Graham Boyd, Honorary Board Member of Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR) recently said (about cannabis legalization): “The main thing is growing public support. I think you can look at the list of 2016 states and argue that any of them could go in 2014. If the public is ready in 2014 and something happens before 2016 and that lift tails off, we may find ourselves saying we missed the wave.” Are we possibly missing the wave on 2014 in California and other states? How does a reform movement split into so many factions help or harm the overall message? Would it be more effective to have fewer people fighting for funding and messaging, or does the fracturing help in some way?


The CCPR Facebook page has 293,000 followers.

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: This is a question that we have been struggling with in California. There is no easy answer or easy solution. California in particular has led the way politically with reform, but we are also now behind. Some of it has been because of the fractured messages and competing initiatives, as well as the complexity and size of the state. The split among activists is both helpful and harmful, but like your middle of the road question, no-one will be happy with any one particular initiative. Some activists will look at is as not liberal enough, while other reform organizations will tend to lean conservative in order to serve the greater good. California will forge its own path different than either the Washington or Colorado model. Like the three bears, we have to find the right fit for our state. But the question remains how and when, and until all the factions are willing to compromise, how we divide the money, resources, and time impacts how we progress. My personal hard stops for an initiative though are reasonable taxes, protection for medical patients, limited personal cultivation, and no imposition of Per Se DUI standards.

LB: What is “cooperative federalism” and how does it work in the context of the War on Drugs? The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance (JAG) Grant Program is the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions — how do the financial incentives behind the Byrne grant influence law enforcement priorities and how does it affect reform efforts?

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: Cooperative Federalism has been grounded in the theory that there is a need for collaboration between the federal government and the states. Its top down emphasis on the “Supremacy Clause” has been driving judicial review based on a nexus between civil and criminal legislation with the economic interest of the federal government. Power is shared cooperatively rather than exclusively with the Court basing its rulings on changes in the American economy and society at large. The federal government always has been proficient at implementing laws that meets a specific policy issue goal.

Through a system of fiscal incentives which include asset forfeiture, categorical and block grants which can only be used for defined purposes that meet federal policy goals, the federal government influences all states with policy initiatives tied to spending. It results in distorting state and local law enforcement policing strategies based on an over-reaching national policy. An example is the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program that aligns all states with the national law enforcement drug priority. Byrne grants creates “policing for profit” by providing economic incentives for agencies and diverting law enforcement resources as they are singularly focused on drug crimes. Investigative overtime, drug-task forces, equipment, vehicles, and marijuana eradication programs are some examples of how Byrne grants are spent. It is difficult to change the priorities of law enforcement when quite literally they are being bribed by the federal government to maintain the status quo.

LB: The National Security Administration (NSA) seems to be encroaching on all parts of our lives but we are supposed to be the “freest of all nations”. How is the average American supposed to feel free or safe in our current Big Brotherly environment?

DIANE GOLDSTEIN: We should be angry not just at the government but ourselves as we let go of the wheel based on the perception of crime and terror. We need to return to the philosophical underpinnings of America which have traditionally been based on constraining the federal government through the interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Both political philosophers and our founding fathers understood the nexus between the morality of the “rule of law” and the philosophical intent and purpose of the law. I think that Americans today must make a choice between injustice and tyranny that is created by valuing security over our core values, and demand that our government return to upholding the Constitution.



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