Horrors! The greatest swimmer in the world took a hit from a bong at a party last November, someone snapped a picture that got published yesterday in a British tabloid, and the sheep in the media immediately began speculating that his career was over.
What a waste if that prediction comes true. But that's the way it is in the insane reality created by the War on Drugs.
I don't know if Michael Phelps smoked any marijuana during all the years that he trained for, and then won his record number of Olympic medals. I doubt it, because he has never tested positive for any banned substances.
But even if he had, marijuana has never been characterized as a performance-enhancing drug, and isn't that what should concern us about athletes using drugs? To the contrary, the official party line of the Drug War is that use of marijuana undermines athletic performance. Yet Phelps has won more swimming medals than anyone else. So where does that line of upside-down logic lead?
It leads, once again, to the conclusion that it is long past time to stop spending billions of dollars every year to stop people from using marijuana, and not just for medical purposes. Despite the uniformly idiotic depictions in Hollywood movies of marijuana users as wasted, useless drop-outs, the truth is that millions of Americans use the weed to relax, loosen social barriers, laugh a lot--and then get on with the serious business of living. In short, for the same purposes as alcohol, which was also once prohibited in this country by the Puritans among us, the hard-noses who think they have the right to tell us which social drugs are acceptable.
Tranquilizers and other mind-altering prescription drugs are fine. Ditto for alcohol. Americans learned from alcohol prohibition that it is a welcome social lubricant, safe to use as long as there are rules restricting it to adults and laws, for example, against driving under the influence.
The same kind of restrictions should apply to marijuana, and its use and controlled sale should also be legal just as it is for alcohol.
It's time for everyone who knows this is true to stop hiding and come out and say so. There's so many good reasons for doing so.
In this time of economic disaster, legalizing use of marijuana would cut taxpayers' costs for police, prisons and judges, money that could be shifted to education, mental health and social services. In 2007 alone, there were 830,000 arrests for violation of marijuana laws, 89% for possession for personal use. Talk about waste!
The Drug Policy Alliance, which is one of the organizations leading the fight for sanity on this issue, says, "The war on drugs has become a war on families, a war on public health and a war on our constitutional rights." It has resulted in a disproportionate impact on minorities, and stripped millions of people of their right to vote, because in many states, conviction on a drug felony means an end to voting rights. Blacks are 4 times more likely to get jail time for marijuana possession as whites; Latinos, 3 times more likely.
For an eloquent description of all that's wrong with the Drug War, go see what the Drug Policy Alliance has to say at their website.
I'd like to think Michael Phelps' exposure as a user of marijuana would cause people to stop and consider the need to legalize marijuana. Last year, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (Dem of Massachusetts) and Ron Paul (Republican from Texas) introduced a bill called the "Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008." It went nowhere, as expected. I hope it will be reintroduced, and that all the people who know the truth about marijuana will pick up their phones and let their reps in Congress know it's past time for this modest reform.
An even easier action is to go to a Change.org website set up specifically to urge President Obama to add marijuana law reform to his agenda.
I hope he has the courage to take this on, because of both its economic benefits and its horrible impact on minorities.
That's the horror the media should be writing about. Not the "gotcha" photo of splendid Michael Phelps having a harmless good time.