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Dr. Joycelyn Elders: Marijuana, Masturbation and Medicine

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A group called is flooding California airwaves with a scary-scary ad against Proposition 19, tthat state's legalize marijuana iaw. We don't know who they are but we do know that there is a former Surgeon General who has come out in favor of Prop 19 . She's Joycelyn Elders, also now a professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine and an associate at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Here's a rough transcript of her comments today on GRITtv.

Laura Flanders (host): Your response to those who say those things: it harms children, it's a gateway drug and it'll just do terrible things to law enforcement?

Joycelyn: I would say that if it does anything it will help law enforcement because they could spend more time taking care of ... ... very harmful things. Proposition 19, as I understand it, is really for adults over 21, they can have only one ounce, it's to be smoked in their own home or in a place that's authorized. Now, the drug cartels regulate who buys the drug. If we regulated it or decriminalized it, it could be sold and taxed and we could use the money to do more valuable things for our bright young people.

Laura: You're an associate there at a children's hospital. A lot of parents, not even very political folks, but parents are worried, 'if they smoke marijuana, who knows what happens next?'

Joycelyn: Well, they don't mind that they drink alcohol, that they smoke cigarettes, both of which are much more harmful. Marijuana has been used for 5000 years. It's never been associated with a toxic death or death from marijuana so I feel that it's more of a medicine and we should use it, regulate it, and tax it. And stop all of our fears and our myths that are going on.

Laura: Regulated just like alcohol?

Joycelyn: It's over 21. We say that we don't want people under 21 drinking but we know that they do. We don't want them smoking, we know that they do, and both of those things are much more harmful than marijuana.

Laura: How did you come to this opinion? Did you always think this way?

Joycelyn: I reviewed the literature years ago, and for at least 15 or 20 years I have been at this opinion and I feel that it should be legalized. The only thing that our harm reduction policy has done has criminalized a lot of bright young people, put them in jail and they're wasting all of our time and money chasing after marijuana users who really are not violent, not nearly as violent as alcohol users. I've read what it does to our brain, it's not a gateway drug, that's been gone over again and again, and I think that we need to stop, review all that's been done, review more if we need to [later] and legalize this drug, tax it, and use the funds for useful services.

Laura: This isn't the first time you've taken a controversial stand. In 1995 you lost your Surgeon General job after just 15 months after suggesting that teaching masturbation wouldn't be out of place in our school system. Today, we have a candidate running in Delaware who came out vigorously against masturbation back then... Looking back, what do you thiink: If people had spoken up more strongly for you (and for masturbation) then do you think we'd be where we are today?

Joycelyn: Well, I think that masturbation never got anybody pregnant, does not make anybody go crazy, and what we're about is preventing HIV in our bright young people. Nobody has to teach anybody how to masturbate, God taught us how. So I think that now, even in our society, they're saying that maybe this is something that we should stress more of for couples and we know that they do already.

Laura: Finally, you're the first African American surgeon general and under our first African American Preisdent, how do you think we're doing? Have we progressed in our understanding and discussion around health care?

Joycelyn: I feel that we have done much to discuss and increase the understanding around health care. I'm very pleased that we have a health care reform bill finally passed, it's not what we want, we want universal access for everybody, health care should be a human right, but we have something we can work on and try and make better. We are the only industrialized nation that requires so many of our people to not have access to a basic human right like health.

For the complete interview, go to

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