Sheriff Lott's Pot Shot

Will Obama reject the anti-drug zealotry highlighted by the Michael Phelps farce?

On Monday, after Richland County, South Carolina, Sheriff Leon Lott announced that he did not have enough evidence to arrest Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps for smoking marijuana at a November party in Columbia, the gold medalist issued a statement of regret. "I used bad judgment, and it's a mistake I won't make again," Phelps said. "For young people especially—be careful about the decisions you make. One bad decision can really hurt you and the people you care about."

Phelps' mistake was not smoking pot so much as doing it in front of someone with a cell phone camera and no compunction about selling the picture to a British tabloid. And if that mistake hurt him, it's not because marijuana turned the record-breaking champion into a slacker or a drug addict. It's because consuming an arbitrarily proscribed intoxicant can result in serious legal (and therefore social and economic) consequences, which cause far more harm than marijuana itself.

This reality should be recognized by President Obama, whose own youthful pot smoking did not exactly hold him back but whose future might have been very different if he had been arrested on drug charges in high school or college. The same, of course, could be said for the two drug-experienced baby boomers who preceded him in the White House. But there are some indications that Obama may take a less dogmatic approach to drug policy.

A few days after that photo of Phelps sucking on a bong appeared in the News of the World, the Obama administration signaled that the president will keep his campaign promise to stop the Drug Enforcement Administration's raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, five of which have occurred since he took office. "The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws," a White House spokesman told The Washington Times, "and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind."

The week after Lott's deputies, looking for evidence to incriminate Phelps, raided two houses and charged seven people with marijuana possession, newspapers reported that Obama had chosen Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Kerlikowske is known for decidedly milder treatment of pot smokers than the hard-line sheriff, who said investigating Phelps was necessary to avoid "sending a message of tolerance."

Norm Stamper, who preceded Kerlikowske as Seattle's police chief and now promotes drug policy reform as a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said the "one thing I know for sure" about Kerlikowske is that "if Michael Phelps had bent over that bong in Seattle and not in Sheriff Leon Lott's Richland County...he'd have nothing to fear but a foolish and fickle cereal maker" (a reference to the widely criticized decision by Kellogg's to drop its endorsement deal with Phelps). Although Kerlikowske's personal views on drug policy are unknown, he has helped implement state and local reforms such as allowing medical use of marijuana and making pot possession Seattle's "lowest law enforcement priority."

Among other things, the latter policy means police can patrol Seattle's annual Hempfest, where the scent of burning cannabis is conspicuous, without arresting every other person. It is hard to imagine Lott exercising similar restraint.

If you're glad that police arrested a record 873,000 Americans on marijuana charges in 2007 (the vast majority of them for simple possession), you can thank zero-tolerance zealots like Lott. The sheriff said he felt compelled to investigate Phelps, which involved busting seven people directly or indirectly linked to the party he attended, to show that "even with his star status, he is still obligated to obey the laws of our state." In the end, though, this case worked out the way drug cases usually do: The big shot got off, and the little guys got shafted.

© Copyright 2009 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • ||

    Obama has already let us down on the drug war. On that "change.gov" website his staffers set up, where you could vote for which issues are most important, legalization was #1, and his response was that he "doesn't support legalization."

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    -jcr

  • ||

    We should all be glad Phelps won all 8 golds he swam for. Can you imagine the publicity hit he'd be taking if he only got 7 and 1 silver.

    "If only he didn't smoke them tweeds."

  • ||

    "I used bad judgment, and it's a mistake I won't make again," = Letting a video be made.

  • Lotsa cops||

    "I used bad judgment, and it's a mistake I won't make again," = Letting a video be made.

  • ||

    One can only hope that a drug policy based on FACTS will at least be considered, if not implemented. So far, no one in power has even considered discussing the situation rationally. They are sticking to traditional arguments because they don't want to be labeled 'progressive' and risk losing their 'conservative religious' outward appearance.

  • ||

    How exactly is he to repay his debt to society if he doesn't do at least some prison time? I think he should be required to make a series of PSAs about how marijuana ruined his life. This is only fitting since he is expected to be a role model.

  • ||

    Juanita says:
    "How exactly is he to repay his debt to society if he doesn't do at least some prison time? I think he should be required to make a series of PSAs about how marijuana ruined his life. This is only fitting since he is expected to be a role model."

    Marijuana didn't ruin his life, this country's prohibitionist attitude towards marijuana is ruining his life.

  • ||

    Marijuana didn't ruin his life, this country's prohibitionist attitude towards marijuana is ruining his life.

    Well, regardless, if he didn't smoke the stuff, he wouldn't be going thru what he is now, so in affect, the marijuana is responsible, period, end of discussion.

  • ||

    And besides, what he did sends a dangerous message to America's children, that drug abuse is a harmless activity.

    If his life is ruined, it sends the message that drug addiction is not harmless. That is why he need some good ole fashioned SEVERE PUNISHMENT.

    Ruining his life helps the cops to keep kids off drugs. Anything that helps to keep us all off drugs is an inherintly good thing, I'm all for it.

    Period, end of discussion.

  • ||

    @John C. Randolph: That's interesting, I would love to see that somehow. I just went to change.gov and it's just a landing page for whitehouse.gov now.

    Interestingly enough, drug policy is not mentioned anywhere under the site's "the agenda" drop-down, not even under "additional issues". No mention whatsoever, which is kinda messed up if it was in fact identified as a major issue before he took office.

  • ||

    OK did a little more poking around; you can still click through to the change.gov site. There are a couple hits on a search of "marijuana", which basically state that Obama is not in favor of legalization. No elaboration at all.

    A search of the same term on whitehouse.gov returned no hits.

  • ||

    Juanita, why is it always "period, end of discussion" when someone contradicts your views? Are you not open to reasonable debate on a subjuct? You should seriously consider reading at least some of the reports on marijuana use.

  • ||

    Lott was looking for publicity-maybe he's eyeing a higher elective office. Doesn't he have more serious crime problems on his hands?
    Did you know that fed prosecuters on the border with Mexico don't bother filing charges for pot smuggling unless the haul is over 500 pounds? Why is it that possession of small amounts for personal use are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, yet smuggelers of 500 pounds or less, with obvious intent to distribute, are allowed to go free?
    BTW-research on canabis indicates that it arrests the progress of Alzheimers disease and shows some signs of stimulating the growth of new brain cells. Research is ongoing and the goal is to develope a pill form of THC extracted from the plant.

  • ||

    Juanita, why is it always "period, end of discussion" when someone contradicts your views? Are you not open to reasonable debate on a subjuct? You should seriously consider reading at least some of the reports on marijuana use.

    Because I don't think children should be on drugs. If we don't stay tougth, next thing there will be crack vending machines in kindergarten.

    shows some signs of stimulating the growth of new brain cells.

    Not true because I always heard it kills brain cells. You can't do that 'research' in the US. Congress determined in 1971 that pot is a dangerous drug with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical efficacy.

    I saw a TV show and they talked to some DEA people and they said pot is a dangerous drug. They are the experts, who are we to disagree.

  • ||

    @Juanita:

    First of all, prohibition does nothing to curb drug use. That is a well-established fact.

    Secondly, smoking pot once (or several times) has absolutely nothing to do with "drug addiction".

    Finally, you say that if he had never smoked, he wouldn't have been going through this ordeal. That could be said of any piece of the puzzle. If he hadn't been photographed, if it weren't illegal, etc.

    Your ignorance is embarrassing, but not particularly surprising. There are many, many people who, like you, have been completely brainwashed by all the misinformation.

  • ||

    @Juanita: Wow, I wish I had read your latest comment before posting.

    To claim that "DEA people" are the experts is laughable. As is your tendency to believe something is true because you "always heard" it.

    Do you have a problem with alcohol being legal? I assume you don't want kids to use that either.

    You should take a look at actual facts. Start here:
    http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/53

  • ||

    There are many, many people who, like you, have been completely brainwashed by all the misinformation.

    If it is not true, then why on earth would the government go through so much effort and billions and billions of dollars to keep us all from using pot?

  • ||

    Thank you Rhayader. It seems Juanita's sources of information leave a lot to be desired (I heard..., I saw on TV..., the DEA said....).

  • ||

    "why on earth would the government go through so much effort and billions and billions of dollars to keep us all from using pot?"

    Because they profit from it.

  • ||

    HellBilly is right, they profit massively from drug prohibition, particularly marijuana as it is the most commonly used illicit drug.

    Asset seizures and federally funded federal grants are huge income sources for police departments, and the amount they take in from this is directly related to the amount of arrests they make. In 2007, over 775,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession. That is a lot of asset seizure and legal fine income.

    Of course, they could probably make more by simply legalizing and taxing the stuff, but that's a hard leap to make. Those in power always have an interest in maintaining the status quo, whether it is beneficial to the country as a whole or not.

  • ||

    Shit, meant "publicly funded federal grants". Damn the lack of an edit button.

  • ||

    Just think how many more gold medals he could have won if he weren't so busy blowing the jolly green giant.

  • ||

    Of course, they could probably make more by simply legalizing and taxing the stuff, but that's a hard leap to make. Those in power always have an interest in maintaining the status quo, whether it is beneficial to the country as a whole or not.

    What about all the lost productivity from everyone being high all the time? Do you really want surgeons and airline pilots stoned, because they would be if pot was legal. What about all the crime? Most violent crime is drug related because people are stoned.

  • Charles||

    Guys you should do a search for Juanita on this blog before you start to take her/him/it seriously.

  • ||

    While I am an advocate for legalizing marijuana, I'm not a big fan of the 'tax it' idea. IMO, the tax would be higher that what is on cigarettes, thus motivating people to grow their own which would break tax laws making them criminals (again). Simply allowing people to grow their own and consume it is all that is really needed. I know this to be a far-reaching alternate reality because no-one makes any money from this, but a man can still have a dream, can't he?

  • ||

    @Juanita: OK, here we go again. First of all, studies have shown that legalization would not result in much higher levels of use; take a look at the link I posted earlier. Secondly, I'm sure people like surgeons and airline pilots would still be drug tested by their employers. Just because alcohol is legal does not mean pilots and surgeons are always doing their jobs drunk.

    Besides that, I have no problem with people being high. I smoke pot every day, and I also get up and go to work every day (I am a project engineer).

    @HellBilly: Yeah I tend to agree actually. It's just that sometimes "showing them the money" is the only way to get people to listen.

  • ||

    Oh wow Juanita, I didn't even see your little claim about crime. Marijuana does absolutely nothing to inspire criminal behavior. Again, see the actual studies I linked to above.

    You want something that impairs judgmental, incites violence, and ruins more lives than all other drugs put together? Head down to the corner store and grab a case of beer.

  • Public Service Annoucement||

    Rhayader, please don't feed the trolls.

  • ||

    What if they get hungry?

  • ||

    You want something that impairs judgmental, incites violence, and ruins more lives than all other drugs put together? Head down to the corner store and grab a case of beer.

    True, but alcohol has a long history of safe use in western society. Drugs are illegal because they cause negative downstream effects on society.

  • ||

    Yeah, safe use. Addiction, spousal abuse, highway deaths, cirrhosis of the liver, underage abuse, overdose. Real safe.

    Strangely enough though, I think fundamentally you are right. The only time alcohol was truly dangerous was during prohibition, when an entirely new underworld of crime was created to fill the void. The same can be said about drugs that are prohibited in modern times, too.

  • ||

    Juanita, until you retreat from your fantasyland and deliver a sound rebuttal to everyone else's argument, I will take Charles's advice and ignore you.

  • ||

    Taxes are the price you pay for legalization. Simple as that. No way around it.

    I would hope/expect that, just as you can brew your own beer and wine, there would be an exemption for growing your own pot.

  • ||

    The only time alcohol was truly dangerous was during prohibition, when an entirely new underworld of crime was created to fill the void.

    It is a myth that prohibition was unsuccessful. The number of people that consumed alcohol decreased. Prohibition was successful, resulting in a 70 percent decline in alcohol consumption by 1921.

  • ||

    First of all, what is your source? How was that measured?

    Secondly, that only works if you consider a decline in measured use to be a metric of success. What about the explosions in crime and violence, particularly in Chicago? It made Al Capone's career, just as our drug laws have made countless South American drug lords rich.

    In short, if it worked so damn well, why was it repealed?

  • ||

    "Taxes are the price you pay for legalization. Simple as that. No way around it."
    Point taken.

    "I would hope/expect that, just as you can brew your own beer and wine, there would be an exemption for growing your own pot."

    Why is it that you can brew beer/make wine but you can't make whiskey? Not trying to get off-topic, just an observation.

  • ||

    Drug users should all be taken out back and shot. They are truly evil, immoral people.

  • stuartl||

    jaunita wrote - And besides, what he did sends a dangerous message to America's children, that drug abuse is a harmless activity.

    QFT.

    Guys, if that doesn't clue you in that Jaunita is a spoof, nothing will.

  • ||

    Juanita, goddess of H&R

    Thanks for giving the finger to those who dare argue with you.

    Me? I'll just continue to worship you from afar.

    Now your dancing child with his chinese suit,
    He spoke to me, I took his flute.
    No, I wasnt very cute to him,
    Was i?
    But I did it, though, because he lied
    Because he took you for a ride
    And because time was on his side
    And because I . . .
    I want you, I want you,
    I want you so bad,
    Honey, I want you.*


    © Bob Dylan

  • Robert||

    You guys are such easy troll bait. To quote Mr. Simpson of the cartoons, "In case you didn't notice, that was sarcasm."

  • OO===D||

    Juanita, you more than triple my size!

  • ||

    Yeah for the first couple posts, he/she/it had me going. I got it after a while.

    I guess I am never looking for trolls because trolling just seems so damn boring to me. I don't get it.

  • OO===D ||

    " I don't get it."

    It's a calling.

  • Stoner||

    It's like, Juanita's so... OMG.

  • ||

    What is Jacob's obsession with fantasizing that Obama will end the drug war?

  • phalkor||

    Juanita wins the thread. Obviously drugs are related to crime because they are illegal. If drugs were legal, they wouldn't be related to crime. Good show.

  • ||

    What part of "I do not support the legalization of marijuana" and Obama's other anti-decriminalization quotes do you not understand?

    Anyone who suggests that Obama might go easy on pot, or support decriminalization, or legalization needs to be slapped in the mouth. Seriously. Maybe the burst of pain will wake them the hell up and they can join the world of the realistic.

    I'm currently involved with trying to convince my own state representative that no, his entire state is not full of anti-drug idiots, and that legalization is a real movement. If you guys sit back and hope Obama will come to your rescue, then you deserve to rot in prison for simple possession. He could not possibly BE more clear on his position.

  • ||

    @otakucode: Good for you. Despite all of the anti-prohibitionists among us, politicians seem to think we are non-existent. We need to make ourselves heard more clearly.

    That being said, Obama has been flimsy on decriminalization (even though he always says he is against all-out legalization). I could probably hunt down sources if I needed to, but I know I have seen him on YouTube talking about how our drug policy is in need of reform.

    Not exactly a radical endorsement, and being a politician, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him back out. But to be clear, he has not been adamantly anti-decriminalization.

  • LarryA||

    investigating Phelps was necessary to avoid "sending a message of tolerance."

    Failing to investigate average users would send a message of tolerance. Failing to investigate Phelps would send a message of special celebrity preference. But that's routine.

    True Zero Tolerance would mean locking up Betty Ford.

    And besides, what he did sends a dangerous message to America's children, that drug abuse is a harmless activity.

    First time I've agreed with Juanita. Wouldn't want the kids to learn the truth. ;-)

    Not exactly a radical endorsement, and being a politician, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him back out. But to be clear, (Obama) has not been adamantly anti-decriminalization.

    And he believes in the Second Amendment, except for reasonable restrictions.

  • ||

    re Juanita: Obvious troll is obvious.

    You guys probably think www.theobamaforum.com is serious, too.

  • ||

    You all got trolled by Juanita

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