Shouldn’t Phelps be charged? Along with President Obama and his two predecessors, all of whom, it seems, used illegal drugs? If not, perhaps it is time to have a serious debate about the drug laws.
Of course, Michael Phelps immediately apologized for his poor judgment. Attention turned to his sponsors, since their contracts include the usual moral clauses, which protect their investment in celebrities who behave foolishly, if not actually immorally. Happily for Phelps’s bank account, some of his big‐money backers, including Speedo, Hilton, and Omega, accepted his apology. Subway and Visa haven’t been talking, but don’t look like they are going to jump. Kellogg’s, so far in the minority, announced it would drop Phelps.
But if marijuana use is so horrid as to warrant criminalization, why are we wasting time discussing whether Phelps will be able to keep his endorsement deals? Shouldn’t he be prosecuted—just like millions of other Americans, whose lives have been ruined by criminal convictions for smoking pot?
In 2007, 872,721 Americans were arrested for marijuana violations, 775,138 of them for possession. Some number of the latter undoubtedly were caught growing or selling and were charged with lesser offenses, but, in any case, hundreds of thousands of Americans ended up in jail for doing precisely what Michael Phelps did: lighting up. Roughly three‐quarters of those arrested for marijuana offenses were, like Phelps, under 30. With most of their lives ahead of them, they face the greatest harm from prosecution under the drug laws.
So why shouldn’t Phelps go to jail?