Reefer Madness: The Vilification of Michael Phelps

Categories: Food & Health
Posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 at 1:46 am by dpacheco

“Anyone that has a problem with Michael Phelps is a fucking moron.”—Markos Moulitsas, DailyKos founder and co-author of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML and co-author of the forthcoming Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink? (Chelsea Green), throws in his two hundredths of a dollar on Michael Phelps and the truth about recreational pot smokers, via The Hill’s Congress Blog:

Add decorated Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps to the growing list of successful Americans who happens to indulge in marijuana during his down time.  The tabloid news story is making international headlines, though it’s difficult to understand why.

After all, Mr. Phelps is hardly alone in his herbal inclinations.  According to national and federal surveys, nearly one out of two Americans have tried weed, and among those age 18 to 25 — Phelps is 23 — pot smoking is especially popular.

Contrary to the messages promoted by the federal government, marijuana consumers include people from all walks of life, ethnic classes, and socio-economic backgrounds. 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 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and legendary astronomer Carl Sagan all have admitted using marijuana at different times during their lives.

According to the U.S. government, some 70 percent of current marijuana users are gainfully employed. Statistically, most marijuana users are successful academically and financially.  A National Bureau of Economic Research study even reported that marijuana use is associated with earning higher wages.  Some former and current users, like Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson, Progressive Auto Insurance founder Peter Lewis, and New York State Mayor Michael Bloomberg are even multi-millionaires.


Perhaps the public’s fascination with this story is because Phelps is recognized as one of the most talented and successful athletes in the entire world.  (He holds the record for the most gold medals won by any athlete in history.)  But Phelps isn’t an anomaly in this regard either.  Many top athletes use cannabis off the field — noting that it helps them to relax after the excitement of sports competition and alleviate the pain from nagging injuries.  It also won’t leave them with a hangover or adversely impact their performance the next day.


Sure, there will be some who will say that this latest chapter in Phelp’s life is deserving of criticism because the 14-time gold medalist is sending a poor message to young children.  And what message would that be?  That you can occasionally smoke marijuana and still be successful in life.  Well sorry if the truth hurts.


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