Drug Policy

Is Doing Bong Hits When You're A 23-Year-Old Swimming Legend Really "Regrettable" Behavior?

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So Michael Phelps, the superstar swimmer who snagged a record batch of gold medals in last year's Olympics, has now been caught on camera smoking dope and is in the midst of doing a ritual P.R. self-immolation (see headline from tabloid to the right). Here's his apology:

"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," Phelps said in a statement released by Octagon, his management firm, and posted on his Facebook site. "I'm 23 years old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public—it will not happen again."

The Los Angeles Times' account of the situation includes this great paragraph:

Phelps has never failed a drug test during his career and was one of several American athletes who volunteered to undergo additional testing to dispel any suggestions that he might be benefiting from performance-enhancing drugs….

Marijuana, though not considered performance-enhancing, was added to the International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances after the 1998 Olympics. Its use among Olympic athletes became a matter of public debate after Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati tested positive after winning a gold medal in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. Rebagliati was initially stripped of his medal, but in the end kept it because marijuana was, at the time, not on the list.

More here. So (as anyone who ever smoked pot could tell you) marijuana is not performance-enhancing in the way that steroids or human-growith hormone or whatever may be. But the IOC banned it because of…bad publicity essentially (and by the way, Phelps shouldn't face sanctions since it's only a problem if you test positive during competition periods).

Let's be clear: What Phelps did might have been illegal, but it's not wrong in any real sense of the word. He's arguably the greatest living athlete in the world today and I suspect he takes care of his body (and mind) pretty well. Nobody really cares about this sort of thing (folks quoted in the LA Times' story note this will have little to no effect on his sponsorship deals).

The only regrettable behavior and bad judgment the incident highlights is the stupidity of the ongoing war on drugs, which criminalizes a plant that almost half of Americans 12 years and older (including the current president) have tried at one point or another in their lives.

The drug war is not simply a minor issue in America. It is a ubiquitous feature of our lives and the perniciousness of its negative effects on politics, culture, and more can't be measured simply in dollars spent (though that's a good start). It is what I call a "structuring event" in American life, forcing all sorts of activity—from education and athletics, from law enforcement to foreign policy—to pay hypocritical and misdirected lip service to a Just Say No mentality. (More on that here.)

If anything comes of the Phelps incident, let's hope it's a more thoughtful drug policy and not just another wave of anti-drug hysteria.

Reason on drug policy. From the latest issue, Jacob Sullum on how the crusade against drug paraphernalia punishes controversial speech.

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  1. Yes. It will cost him endorsement $$$ from chicken-livered CEO’s who will be afraid of the association with a “druggie”.

  2. Sadly this will probably ruin his endorsement deals.

    It’s never the marijuana that’s the problem, its society’s hysterical reaction to marijuana use (it can keep you out of a job, etc).

  3. Nick,

    Chck yr hdlne & hr a cpyedtr.

  4. which criminalizes a plant that almost half of Americans 12 years and older (including the current president)

    Shit, including the current President, the last one and the one before him. Presidents for a twenty-year period all have done it. Amazing.

  5. Not to mention both the current President and the last President used not only marijuana, but cocaine.

  6. And I wouldn’t be shocked if Bubba did coke and never admitted to it.

  7. Too bad he didn’t have the stones to say what he did was harmless and should be of concern to no one. I understand why he didn’t if he thought he’d lose a lot of money, but it’s still too bad.

  8. folks quoted in the LA Times’ story note this will have little to no effect on his sponsorship deal

    I can’t believe that. That’s the only real consequence, and the only reason to make with the mia culpa.

    Actually I’m rather pissed off at Phelps. The Snowboarder stood his ground. As have a few entertainers. Montel has been a great Med Pot spokesman. Sooner or later there’s got to be a tipping point when monumental stupidity of “pot is bad” comes tumbling down. But every time some Phelps tows the lion for the Drug War it postpones the revolution.

  9. Who wants to take bets on what the first organization is going to be to call for him to be stripped of his medals? Has this already happened?

    I’m going to put money down on MADD

  10. and Santonio Holmes, who won last night’s game on the tips of his toes, was busted smoking a blunt in downtown Pittsburgh this season. Pot sn’t such a big deal, except when it is. This will likely blow over quickly and be ignored, what other swimmers are as recognizable as Phelps?

  11. Warren, I’m not sure I wouldn’t do anything differently if I were him. Would you really flush tens of millions of dollars down the toilet to make a political point?

  12. The funny thing is that the ONLY, and I mean the ONLY, argument anyone ever offers against marijuana or any drug is consequentialist in nature: “If you smoke marijuana, bad things will happen to you.”

    Apparently those bad things include being the world’s greatest athlete and the President of the United States.

  13. But Fluffy! You might move onto harder drugs like cocaine, which means you might end up…as President of the United States.

  14. I understand his response, but I really wish he had taken a stand. He probably would lose money (drugs are bad, mmkay?) but he would be doing a very noble thing.

  15. “tows the lion” is awesome and should replace all correct usage of that phrase in the future.

  16. But every time some Phelps tows the lion for the Drug War it postpones the revolution.

    I’m assuming this expression is intended to be ironic. In the linguist biz we call this an ‘eggcorn’.
    Just me being a prescriptivist for a change…

  17. Look what happened to the Dell commercial kid. “Dude, you’re losing your job.”

    CEOs who probably smoked in HS and/or college are just as hypocritical as parents and elected officials when it comes to pot.

  18. Fluffy, BDB –
    You just don’t understand. Obama had to beat the addictive powers of marijuana in order to become POTUS. This is probably the first time Phelps tried pot, and therefore he will continue to abuse drugs in a downward spiral unless he seeks treatment (incl. society’s forgiveness) immediately!! Fortunately this young man knows what he did was wrong. If he didn’t, he may never seek the necessary treatment to beat this thing that has taken so many young victims!!!

    [vomits]

  19. Clearly, Marijuana ruined his life.

    On a different note, the notion that Marijuana is not performance-enhancing may not be strictly true. I think it was Carl Sagan who hypothesized that MJ was originally cultivated as a drug to aid hunters in staying in one position for long periods of time, helping them to remain motionless while stalking prey.

  20. It is actually our responsibility, as the most philosophically informed individuals who interact in the real world, to spin this news item as best we can. I cannot expect Phelps to fall on his sword for this, but I do expect everyone here yapping to write up a brief paragraph to those who are on the bubble about this shit and show that marijuana is not that bad. Hell, at least talk about it when you go out to the bar this weekend…or over the dinner table…something!

  21. I’m pissed phelps didn’t go on tv and say

    “Yes, i smoked marijuana. It didnt screw up my life, in fact, i’m one of the best athletes in the world even though i smoke marijuana. The only thing that has hurt me from marijuana is this witch hunt, F*&% you, i’m going to have sex with my stripper girlfriend”

  22. He should be stripped of his medals to show the children there are consequences to using drugs.

  23. Meanwhile, in totally unimportant news of zero interest to libertarians, Iraq held yet another boring election.

    Some partial and unofficial results leaked to Iraqi media suggest the public turned away from religious parties widely blamed for stoking sectarian tension.

    Well, there goes that “theocracy.” How sad, another defeatist meme dies.

    And now, back to the hugely important news of a 23-year-old smoking a bong.

  24. “don’t smoke a bowl if you want to keep the gold”

  25. I think it was Carl Sagan who hypothesized that MJ was originally cultivated as a drug to aid hunters in staying in one position for long periods of time, helping them to remain motionless while stalking prey.

    Carl Sagan hypothesized a lot of things. Carl was an interesting guy, but he was hella wrong about nuclear winter, etc. In Dragons of Eden he hypothesized that human evolution would be limited by cranial expansion and vaginal width capacity. I think Carl may have enjoyed the chronic himself. NTTAWWT.

    Anyway, Phelps has clearly been scarred by MJ use. He’s part fish. He learned it by watching Aquaman!!!

  26. Phelps will never be able to put this sad episode behind him until he appears on television with “Doctor” Phil, and begs for the forgiveness of the nation.

    *I, of course, would like to see “Doctor” Phil wrapped in chains, behind a Land Rover, being towed through the lions, at some outdoor safari park.

  27. While it has the momentum, Big Marijauna should go on a PR offensive. It could run an ad bragging about the greatness it inspires. I can see a character, call him Big Buddy, asking if we saw the catch last night? yep, he’s been smoking me, See that swimmer win eight gold medals? yep, he smokes me too.

  28. “(and by the way, Phelps shouldn’t face sanctions since it’s only a problem if you test positive during competition periods).”

    I know you wrote “should,” but I think he *will* face sanctions.

    WADA administers “out of competition” controls to athletes all the time. Michael Rasmussen (sp?) was kicked out of the Tour de France when it was revealed he had lied about his off-season whereabouts (said he was in Mexico, when he was in Italy) supposedly to get around those additional tests.

    The justification WADA gives is that many athletes will use performance-enhancing drugs during training to help them build performance potential, and then wean off the drugs before competition. There is also no subcategories of “recreational drugs” and “performance-enhancing drugs.” It’s just “banned substances.” People get thrown out of the Olympics all the time (and suspended from the NFL this season) not for taking HGH or its ilk, but for taking legitimate medicines that could possible have the effect of maybe masking some performance-enhancing drug.

    While I wouldn’t imagine that cannabis is on WADA’s banned substance (the article says USOC), WADA does respect and enforce national affiliate organization’s protocols (and respects their appeals processes).

  29. With the billions poured into border security ant the ubiquitous raids on domestic growers, he must have paid an arm and a leg for that weed from the devil’s garden.

    Oh, wait

  30. I’m 23 years old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from me.

    Phelps worded his “apology” in an intersting manner. He didn’t say he thought it was wrong, he said it was wrong in the eyes of people who expect Phelps not to do such a horrid thing.

    Combine that with his mention of his “success in the pool” and this apology to me translates to “Sorry you don’t expect this from me, but I just won eight gold medals, and pot or not, I’m still a symbol of healthy behavior.”

  31. From the Virginia Pilot article is this quote:

    “In court, as he had testified earlier, Frederick admitted that he lied to the detectives that night about his marijuana-growing operation and failed to tell them that some plants had been stolen days earlier. Frederick also said he saw a face and then a hand reach through the hole in his front door.”

    The author does not elaborate on the lie. What did Frederick lie about? Did he actually sell MJ? Were some MJ plants stolen?
    I missed any previous mention of him actually having or growing MJ plant.

  32. Juanita | February 2, 2009, 9:59am | #

    Juanita | February 2, 2009, 10:04am | #

    I’m am not amused asshole. How dare you make some a lame impression of the siren of the intertubez?

    No poetry for you.

  33. Close that damn tag.

  34. The only regrettable behavior and bad judgment the incident highlights

    is on the part of the idiot who took his picture and sold it to a tabloid. If I had Phelps’ millions, and I knew who this idiot was, I would arrange a “meeting” with some “friends” of mine who could go into some detail about why invading another’s personal space is not such a red-hot idea.

  35. On a different note, the notion that Marijuana is not performance-enhancing may not be strictly true. I think it was Carl Sagan who hypothesized that MJ was originally cultivated as a drug to aid hunters in staying in one position for long periods of time, helping them to remain motionless while stalking prey.

    I would call MJ a performance-enhancing drug if I were entering the Xbox championships or something, but otherwise, not so much…

  36. If I was the person who had the picture, who do I think would pay me more for it? The media, or Phelps?

    Which makes me wonder how much this guy got paid for his picture. If he didn’t get paid for it, then he’s really stupid.

  37. I’d think the folks who make Doritoes would be beating his door down now.

  38. Maybe this was intentional. Maybe Phelps is really a pro-drug advocate and the pictures were given to media on purpose, all part of his master plan.

    Then again, I don’t think he’s that smart.

  39. Carl Sagan hypothesized a lot of things. Carl was an interesting guy, but he was hella wrong about nuclear winter, etc. In Dragons of Eden he hypothesized that human evolution would be limited by cranial expansion and vaginal width capacity. I think Carl may have enjoyed the chronic himself. NTTAWWT.

    He definitely loved to smoke, he wrote an essay about the experience and why he continued to do so. (I think that essay was when he introduced his “hypothesis”). My point is, a large number of people in intellectual fields report positive effect on mood, thought processes, etc., and we know it has muscle relaxant properties, so it is not unreasonable to think that it may be beneficial in some skills-based or physical activity (which have a heavy psychological component; ask any athlete).

    Meanwhile, in totally unimportant news of zero interest to libertarians, Iraq held yet another boring election.

    TallDave, the only thing that people object to is the cost of getting here. To do so, we had to abandon our principles, as well as those of international law and treaty, and shred diplomatic credibility, and kill many thousands of people. The tens of thousands of Iraqis that have died can’t vote either.

    And, we aren’t willing to do it for everyone who needs it, so all your reasons really strike me as opportunistic garbage. If they were true, we’d be knocking over dictators left and right.

  40. What the hell was Phelps supposed to do? He showed up at a party, and somebody said he wasn’t very fast at bong swats. What was he supposed to do?!

  41. Meanwhile, in totally unimportant news of zero interest to libertarians, Iraq held yet another boring election.

    With a mere 140,000 U.S. troops on the ground. Color me totally fucking unimpressed with the Mesopotamian transitiion to secular representative government with basic freedoms guaranteed to all.

    Call me when they do it on their own.

  42. What the hell was Phelps supposed to do? He showed up at a party, and somebody said he wasn’t very fast at bong swats. What was he supposed to do?!

    When someone challenges you to kill the party bowl, you go for it. Otherwise, no pussy for you that night. What do people expect him to have done? His lung capacity is greater than a pearl diver’s–he can get it done.

    so it is not unreasonable to think that it may be beneficial in some skills-based or physical activity

    I am unbeatable at chess when baked. Skills-based, indeed.

  43. Please ignore that three Sunni candidates were assassinated in advance of the election.

    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/01/2009129175338701596.html

  44. Sure were a lot of beer commericials on the the superbowl?

  45. Even if it were legal, the IOC would still ban it because you can use it to relieve pain. Over-the-counter painkillers are banned substances in Olympic competition, so I doubt they’d be much cooler with pot.

    That aside, as I’ve heard it from others, swimmers tend to be a hard-partying lot, but they’re back in the pool at 5AM. Besides, ask his competition… I bet they’d rather Phelps be in the pool stoned than clean.

  46. “””With a mere 140,000 U.S. troops on the ground. Color me totally fucking unimpressed with the Mesopotamian transitiion to secular representative government with basic freedoms guaranteed to all.

    Call me when they do it on their own.””””

    Agreed.

  47. I smoke pot just like all of you. The only difference is that when I’m done I win gold medals.

    Oh, and this thread needs more cowbell.

  48. Well that explains his eating habits, then.

  49. ‘I think it was Carl Sagan who hypothesized that MJ was originally cultivated as a drug to aid hunters in staying in one position for long periods of time, helping them to remain motionless while stalking prey.’

    OOG: You’re right, this stuff really works! I was able to stay motionless for hours. The animals were going right past me.

    GRONK: Did you catch anything?

    OOG: Dude, I got the standing-motionless part, how can you expect me to remember every other detail of what I was supposed to be doing?

  50. The Mainstream Media has already written more about Michael Phelps’ bong hits than they ever mentioned about Barack Obama snorting cocaine.

  51. i have not lost or drawn a chess game offline in the 7.5 years since i moved to oregon. i am unbeatable baked, unbaked or half-baked.

    i have also never lost a go game to a non-asian in my life.

  52. i have also never lost a go game to a non-asian in my life.

    What, do Asians have special “Go” powers?

  53. Shouldn’t the drug warriors be the ones all embarrassed and apologetic over this photo? Something like …

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/30072

  54. ‘I think it was Carl Sagan who hypothesized that MJ was originally cultivated as a drug to aid hunters in staying in one position for long periods of time, helping them to remain motionless while stalking prey.’

    It seems like a bad hunting strategy to make one’s scent even stronger. Maybe it helps to mask your scent like those bottles of deer piss. Either way, I can guarantee that this strategy is still in use today.

  55. What, do Asians have special “Go” powers?

    The rest of the world thinks so – a 9 dan rank by the AGA (as well as the British equivalent) is treated as an 8 dan in Japan and China.

  56. Either way, I can guarantee that this strategy is still in use today.

    Considering how fast a ranger will pull your hunting license for being drunk in your tree stand, getting baked seems like a smarter policy anyway.

  57. Should have used this Apple Pipe:

    https://reason.com/blog/show/131327.html

    Then when the photo surfaced he could say, “No, that’s just a picture of me eating an apple.”

  58. The rest of the world thinks so – a 9 dan rank by the AGA (as well as the British equivalent) is treated as an 8 dan in Japan and China.

    According to wiki this is more to do with there not being a widely accepted standard rating system to apply the ranks.

    Considering how fast a ranger will pull your hunting license for being drunk in your tree stand, getting baked seems like a smarter policy anyway.

    Considering the one time my brother got busted for pot it was by a ranger, apparently they don’t have much tolerance for it either. Probably some Smokey the Bear bullshit.

  59. Touche me, Juanita, touch me. You know you want to.

  60. According to wiki this is more to do with there not being a widely accepted standard rating system to apply the ranks.

    That makes more sense than “special Asian powers” but it just isn’t as glamorous. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t…..

  61. Look what happened to the Dell commercial kid. “Dude, you’re losing your job.”

    No, no, no… if you’re going to refer to that, at least get the joke right. It’s, “Dude, you’re gettin’ a cell!”

  62. “I promise my fans and the public-it will not happen again.”

    and the translation is:

    “I promise my fans and the public that I will never allow photos of this most enjoyable activity to be taken.”

  63. squarooticus | February 2, 2009, 1:17pm | #

    Look what happened to the Dell commercial kid. “Dude, you’re losing your job.”
    No, no, no… if you’re going to refer to that, at least get the joke right. It’s, “Dude, you’re gettin’ a cell!”

    According to my home version of $25,000 Pyramid, “That’s Something the Cops Would Say,” not the heads of Dell and the ad agency he worked for. Not sure what they expected, though. Besides being an actor by trade, he basically represented pot smoking PC users in his role.

    Anyone figure out yet what country on Earth we can live in freely and still get NFL Sunday Ticket?

  64. Let’s be clear on this tho, what one wants to do to their body is one thing, but we are talking bout someone that many children look up to. And people here are saying he should take a stand and say drugs are ok? I dont’ think so. Parents are trying to raise their children right, and the last thing they need is some role model standing up and saying drugs are ok. No thank you.

  65. Of course not…KEEP DOPE ALIVE !!!

  66. Cannabis is a performance enhancer in slow-fire precision shooting. In small quantities it reduces finger tremors.

  67. If anything comes of the Phelps incident, let’s hope it’s a more thoughtful drug policy and not just another wave of anti-drug hysteria.

    Well, we know what Nick’s been smoking.

  68. Parents are trying to raise their children right, and the last thing they need is some role model standing up and saying drugs are ok.

    Yeah, I had the damnedest time explaining to my 19 y.o. son why he’d get in more trouble with a 12-pack of Miller in his car than a baggie of Mendocino’s finest.

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