Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has been caught smoking pot, and so we’re hearing the usual caterwauls of the “save the children” crowd: Michael Phelps is no role model, kids, because he smokes the marijuana.
He smokes the marijuana, the logic goes, so do not look to him as a hero. Because then, young children, you might smoke marijuana, and it will destroy your lives. Just like it did to Phelps, whose use of the drug delivered him into the seedy world of collecting gold medals in numbers so large that history itself is ashamed.
I’m no advocate of marijuana. I don’t smoke it, but I also don’t get whipped into a moral outrage if someone else does. It is about time our culture starts getting its facts straight: If so many of our role models have smoked pot, maybe pot is not the source of our wasted lives. Pot smokers can be standard cliches of yore – musicians, artists, writers. But they can also be presidents, athletes, academic whizzes, professors or CEOs.
Or they can be criminals. Which is the ultimate absurdity: we outlaw pot because it ruins lives, and we want to save those lives. So we imprison kids who get caught with it and ruin their lives before pot ever has the chance to.
As far as I can tell, the harm pot inflicts is limited to narrowing people’s social circles and conversational interests. That’s the true cost of pot smoking. That, and its seductive lure toward a lifestyle of humiliating CD collections and degrading wall tapestries. But to protect children from respecting Michael Phelps emphasizes our collective, paranoid delusions about the effects of marijuana. We should be embracing Phelps as direct proof that marijuana isn’t an impediment, that potheads can have interests beyond getting fried.
What about “those guys?” You know, the unemployed cousins watching hockey and smoking a turducken bong, going nowhere, doing nothing. Take the pot away and you’ll have an unemployed cousin watching hockey with a slightly better taste in music. Habits do not define us, decisions do. I’ve come across too many pot smokers making the same decisions I make to believe that pot impairs their ability to make those decisions.
What matters is personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is completely compatible with smoking ganja out of an apple. Can you push yourself to keep engaging with the world, instead of locking yourself up with a window fan and incense matches? If the answer is yes, then I don’t see why we need to make you a criminal. If the answer is no, then you probably don’t care about role models, because you are clinically depressed.
Culture teaches us to be terrified of the idea that problems take root inside of us. We forge identities through the outside world and our consumption of it, so it is tempting to believe our ills can stem from consuming the wrong things. This premise is untrue. No one smokes away his or her life’s purpose unless something inside of them is lost or damaged. They need help, not laws.
Perhaps Phelps can prove to potheads everywhere that they can smoke without making it the centerpiece of their lives. If we accept this, we may begin to judge people based on the values they bring to the world, rather than on the air they choose to breathe.
Eryk Salvaggio has never inhaled.