SA Column - Those criticizing Michael Phelps must be stoned


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Whether or not Michael Phelps smoked marijuana to celebrate his Olympic achievements is something we do not know, but Americans shouldn't be the least bit surprised if he did. Nor should we be the least bit shocked that Phelps was photographed smoking marijuana at a party in Columbia, S.C., a scandal that made worldwide headlines. This single moment threatens Phelps' legacy and could result in criminal charges. Already, the Olympic champion has lost at least one corporate sponsor.

In contemporary America, smoking marijuana is a lot like speeding on the highway — many consider it wrong or dangerous, while still practicing the illegal activity or keeping company with those who do. That such a pervasive and relatively harmless activity like smoking marijuana remains illegal is often compared to the prohibition of alcohol in the early 20th century, when quaint, age-old traditions like heading to the local pub or cocktail parties were suddenly forbidden by law and declared an affront to morality and decency. Prohibition was a farce and everyone knew it. And in 1933, after 13 years, the hypocrisy of Prohibition ended as America sobered up by partying down.

In 2009, it's time Americans were honest about prohibition once again. Writes Paul Armentano, deputy director for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), "According to national and federal surveys, nearly one out of two Americans have tried weed ... America's current president said that he smoked marijuana regularly as a young man. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Vice President Al Gore, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and legendary astronomer Carl Sagan all have admitted using marijuana at different times during their lives."

Despite his tremendous athletic ability, Michael Phelps, the son of a police officer and a middle school principal, remains by all accounts a typical, middle class young man. Even in condemning him, Colorado Springs' The Gazette seemed to recognize Phelps' all-American attributes, writing in an editorial, "He was the poor kid from Baltimore who lifted himself with endless, torturous hard work. He was one of us, even if he seemed half-fish/half-man. This homogenized image of Phelps is just a mirage. Behind the facade, a flawed young man was hiding. And this young man likes to party."

Damn straight Phelps likes to party. Hell, I like to party. And there's no telling how much fun I might have if I were a 23-year-old Olympic gold medalist worth millions of dollars.

If it was reported that Phelps spent his evenings at home completely sober playing Solitaire, I'd be shocked. That he was out partying and smoking weed isn't the least bit shocking. Phelps isn't an embarrassment to America as The Gazette and so many other editorials are now suggesting. Phelps is the quintessential young American — warts, weed, and all.

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