The Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care (http://www.mmdetroit.org), the group spearheading the effort to legalize the medical use of marijuana in Michigan's largest city through a voter initiative, announced Tuesday that Dr. Joycelyn Elders has endorsed the initiative and will be joining the group's steering committee. Elders served as US Surgeon General under President Bill Clinton until she was forced to resign after becoming a lightning rod for conservative critics because of her outspoken views on a number of sensitive issues, including drug policy.
Elders has agreed to allow her image to be used on direct mailings to Detroit voters, the coalition announced, and she will pen an op-ed to appear in a major Detroit newspaper in the month before the August vote. In the direct mailing, a photo of Elders will accompany her statement of support for the initiative: "The doctor/ patient relationship must be protected in this country. Medical use of use of marijuana should be legal and I urge the voters of Detroit to say YES on August 3rd."
Elders' addition to an already impressive roster of endorsers will be welcome in what is shaping up to be a real battle in the Motor City. Anti-medical marijuana forces led by the Partnership for a Drug-Free Detroit are mobilizing against the measure (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/327/detroit.shtml).
Elders was the first African-American and the second woman ever to hold the title of surgeon general, but her tenure was short-lived and marked by controversy -- her willingness to approach sensitive topics with an open mind proved too much for her political foes and, eventually, for President Clinton, who forced her from office after only 15 months. She was finally ousted in 1994 after daring to suggest at an AIDS conference that masturbation "is part of human sexuality and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught."
But Elders had already irritated conservatives with her support of Clinton's national health and irritated Clinton by having the temerity to even suggest that the US might want to study legalizing drugs. "I do feel that we would markedly reduce our crime rate if drugs were legalized, but I don't know all the ramifications of this," she said at a December 7, 1993, speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. "I do feel that we need to do some studies. In some of the countries that have legalized drugs, they certainly have shown that there has been a reduction in their crime rate and that there has been no increase in the drug use rate."
While Elders was forced out of the Clinton administration, she has remained a visible fighter for progressive health causes and continues to speak out on sexual health and drug policy issues, and not just medical marijuana. In a 1997 interview with the St. Petersburg (FL) Times, she said her greatest regret about her tenure as surgeon general was that she did not push harder for needle exchange programs. As perhaps the country's best-known black physician, Elders continues to draw crowds at speeches around the country.
The Detroit coalition credited the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) with facilitating the dialogue between initiative organizer Tim Beck and Dr. Elders and thanked MPP for a $30,000 donation received last week.