Michael Phelps




The Michael Phelps saga continues.

Earlier today it was reported that the sheriff’s department in the South Carolina county where the infamous bong photo was taken arrested eight people believed to be connected with the incident—but for activities of last weekend, not the Phelps incident of last November.

But one must certainly think that the publicity put them on the coppers’ radar.

That, plus the fact that the person who owned the bong brilliantly tried to sell it on eBay for $100,000, according to press reports. Who says marijuana use dulls judgment?

Phelps has some strong backing among pothead organizations, however. The Marijuana Policy Project and several other groups that advocate the legalization of marijuana use are urging a boycott of Kellog Co. in response to the firm’s decision to remove Phelps’s photo from cereal boxes.

(For those who will wonder about this, my position on the legalization issue is as follows. I think the federal government should stay out of it except where interstate traffic in the stuff violates state laws, and I think that at the very least the states should not criminalize the personal use of the stuff if grown on one’s own property. I also think that state laws should allow medical use (currently forbidden by the federal government) and should concentrate on traffickers whose activities do some actual harm to other people, if there would be any such under such a more sensible system as I describe here.

(Full disclosure: As to my personal position on the second most vile weed, I do not recommend or condone the use of marijuana or any other recreational drug, but (1) I don’t think my preferences should apply to those over whom I do not have authority (that is, anyone other than children living in my house), and (2) I think that criminalization of the stuff has created a horrible criminal subculture in our nation, which does vastly more damage than the recreational use of pot could ever do.)

Now, on to the much more interesting issue of the moral implications of the latest turns of the story.

I see two very good ones.

One, the nitwit who owned the bong in the infamous Phelps photo is surely wreaking the consequences of some very understandable greed after attempting to sell the device online. One can certainly approve of the person’s initiative in trying to get the most benefit from the lucky situation, yet he or she will apparently pay a price for being insanely foolish in calling such universal public attention to him- or herself by putting it on eBay instead of pursuing potentially less lucrative but infinitely safer back channels.

I hope, however, that the penalty in South Carolina for possession of a bong is exceedingly mild (preferably probation or not being prosecuted at all), as the person really was just naive about the intensity of authority’s scrutiny, and did nothing to harm anyone. However, I suspect that the government will seek to make an example of this poor pothead, which is very wrong, in my view.

Two, it’s good to see the pot-legalization people jump to Phelps’s defense in calling for Kellogs to be held accountable for their action in removing Phelps as an endorser of their products—even though, of course, the weed legalizers are being just as opportunistic as anyone in this situation. But their action is good, in my view, because it makes clear the fact that our individual and corporate choices in pursuing the right moral path have consequences themselves, that we should not expect such choices to be easy or without possible personal sacrifices.

If we are going to hold one another accountable for the morality of our actions, we should also be willing to accept the consequences of those choices.

That’s what life is like under conditions of true liberty. I say, let’s have more of it.

—S. T. Karnick