Thank you, Michael Phelps, for pointing out the most glaring hypocrisy in American life: the foolish and childish demonization of marijuana that exists cheek-by-jowl with the romantic and seductive image of alcohol. The Olympic star is 23 years old — old enough to be responsible for his decisions — but the only misjudgment I see is that he trusted his rat bastard friends to not take cell-phone pics of him, thus proving Cindy Lauper's warning: "Money changes everything." Sure, pot is still against the law — another failure of my generation — but suddenly Phelps' photo is all over the world, as if he were caught in a Chinese opium den, and he is being forced to grovel to save his sponsorships. Kellogg's already has announced they are dumping him. If I weren't hooked on Raisin Bran, I'd consider boycotting the company.
And all this was simply over a photo. I thought it was only illegal to possess marijuana, but Phelps is being persecuted for a picture of him smoking at some point in the past. The USA Swimming organization has suspended Phelps for three months, canceling several meet appearances and cutting off all financial support. The board's statement could have come right out of 1968:
"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the ... kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero."
Spoken like a true member of the 50 percent of Americans who still deny trying pot. Are those hard-won gold medals less worthy because of a bong hit? Fools! Your children already know more about it than you do. I understand that still-developing brains have no business trying any mind-altering substance. That's why we don't sell whiskey to children. But it's easier for your children to get pot than alcohol, especially with the profit motive and the outlaw mystique that comes with its procurement and use. Had Phelps been photographed at the same party with a tumbler of scotch, no one would have raised an eyebrow, and that's just asinine.
In Eric Schlosser's book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, marijuana is cited as the largest cash crop in the country. In 2003, Schlosser wrote that "there are more people in prison today for violating marijuana laws than at any other time in American history." First outlawed in the states in the 1930s, a government-sponsored, anti-marijuana, disinformation campaign continued unabated until beatniks and hippies exposed it as lies and propaganda. According to Schlosser, "The war on drugs launched by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 began largely as a campaign against marijuana, organized by conservative parents' groups." When Reagan secretly supplied the Contras in Nicaragua with weapons, we now know those supposedly empty CIA planes came back to this country filled with cocaine, which, depending on who you ask, created the nationwide crack epidemic. Yet, the know-less-than-nothing Reagan began his "war on drugs" on a weed that grows wild on almost every continent. He might as well have declared war on kudzu.
The cultivation of marijuana is now an American industry. It is estimated that 3 million people grow it. Entire counties in Northern California have been given over to pot farming, and the legalization of medical marijuana has not just brought relief to sufferers of a variety of maladies, from glaucoma to symptoms of AIDS, it has made pot as easy to obtain as a pizza. But marijuana laws in other states, particularly in the South, are as draconian as ever.
Ohio State University scientists have recently shown that marijuana has the capacity to reduce memory impairment in the aging brain, and those few who still claim that pot is a "gateway" to more dangerous substances have yet to discover that the gateway leads to a bag of Fritos and a Snickers bar. Wouldn't it be something if there were a movement under way to reeducate the public and decriminalize, regulate, and tax marijuana? Well, there is.
Representatives Barney Frank and Ron Paul have introduced two bipartisan bills: H.R.5842 allows the states to decide to decriminalize or allow medical marijuana without interference from federal authority; and H.R.5843 — officially called "The Act to Reform Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults" — would end the criminal prosecution of Americans in possession of 100 grams or less, which would be considered personal use.
The Marijuana Policy Project states that marijuana arrests "outnumber arrests for all violent crimes combined," yet I never heard of anyone who held up a liquor store because he was out of pot. With all the problems on the new president's shoulders, marijuana reform is probably a low priority. But if President Obama is looking for new and profitable businesses, he need look no further than California, where an already burgeoning marijuana trade, if properly regulated, just might take a bite out of the national debt. This is one project that is literally "shovel ready."
Randy Haspel writes the blog Born-AgainHippies, where a version of this first appeared.