Monday, February 16, 2009

The Bong Hit That Refuses To Go Away

From Palmetto Southpaw

Downfall of a Legend or Rising of a Martyr?

Friday, February 6, 2009

It is the Bong Hit that refuses to go away... Like some everlasting gobstopper of cannabis, Michael Phelps' indiscretion here in Columbia, SC just keeps clawing it's way back into the news, both locally and nationally.

The latest news comes from USA Swimming -- Mr. Phelps has now been suspended from competition for 90 days.

Kellogg's has decided not to renew Mr. Phelps' advertising contract, most certainly only the first to cut him loose -- stay tuned.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott continues his stance of wanting to charge Mr. Phelps with simple possession, which carries a fine of up to $547 and up to 30 days in jail, but he still has NO PROOF OF POSSESSION.

Both Columbia PD and USC PD (the most probable local (sub-county) jurisdictions that the Bong Hit falls under) have stated that they will NOT pursue charges. Thank goodness SOME of the Law Enforcement in this town has some sense.

One of South Carolina's prominent defense attorneys, Jack Swerling, pretty much sucked the air out of Sheriff Lott's party balloons with an ACTUAL DEPICTION of how the possession law is applied. He basically said that Sheriff Lott has NO CASE -- that to be charged with possession, YOU HAVE TO BE ACTUALLY CAUGHT WITH SOMETHING IN YOUR POSSESSION. A 3 month old picture of you in possession of something that may or may not have been an illegal substance is not proof. The police carry field testing kits for just this purpose -- because they can't convict you of the crime, unless they can prove what you had was an illegal substance when you were arrested in possession of it. They can't test a picture.

USA Swimming says "no rules have been violated", which means that he hasn't tested positive for anything illegal... so there's not even any residual proof of possession in his urine, the weakest of all possession standards. (Light pot users with high metabolism can test clean in less than 21 days after the last use.)

Where is this all going?

Heckifiknow, but here's my advice to Mr. Phelps, now that he has 3 months off.

Come back to Columbia. Go see Mr. Swerling and retain his services. I'm willing to bet he will give you a freebie on this one, but even if he charges you it's worth every penny. Call a press conference and fall on your sword, again. Tell the world that you made a mistake and you are here to pay for it so you can move on with your life. Then have Mr. Swerling (and the 63 satellite trucks) escort you to the Richland County Sheriff's Department and turn yourself in. Sheriff Lott will PERSONALLY arrest you in front of the Press. (He'll do it himself, no doubt in my mind... he probably already has a necktie picked out for the occasion.) Demand a trial by a jury of your peers. (We are gonna have a tough time scrounging up 12 Pot Smoking 14-time Olympic Medalists in Richland County to serve on the panel, but that is the Clerk of Court's problem, not yours.)

Then let's just see how far this rabbit hole goes. What's the worst case scenario at this point?

Mr. Phelps has nothing else to lose -- he has already been convicted in the press and punished worse than the law allows. I'm sure that the Kellogg's contract was in excess of $547. He has already been suspended from swimming for 3 times longer than the 30 days he would get in jail, and he spends 18 hours a day in the pool... 90 days of no swimming for him is practically house arrest. His value as a "role model" is shot, not that I ever encourage anyone to choose an athlete as a role model for anything other than athletics -- not lifestyle. How many times have they turned out to be just as flawed as the rest of us, only healthier?

What would come of all this madness? Perhaps the publicity from the Phelps Circus would bring light to the silliness of Sheriff Lott and his sometimes nonsensical style of law enforcement. I'm not sure what it is about having a camera in front of him, but he will just about walk out on any limb if it makes him sound as good as he looks. I think he went a bit too far out on this limb, and someone needs to saw it off. I nominate Jack Swerling.

On a wider scale, perhaps it would bring attention to the antiquated marijuana laws that we have in the USA that were brought about in the 1930's, expanded in the 50's and 60's, and then exploded in the last 20 years and allows some law enforcement agencies to think they can go the extremes that Sheriff Lott wants to go -- being able to arrest and charge people with possession based simply 3 month old picture of them holding a water pipe.

I'm not going to dig deeply into the decriminalization debate, there are plenty of other places on the web that have already covered it ad nauseum. This episode between Mr. Phelps and Sheriff Lott is just a symptom of the problems underlying a system that makes money by putting as many people in jail as possible.
It's called a Corpo-Industrial Prison System, and we are sliding down a steep hill to a point where the half of the people not in jail are only working to pay enough taxes to keep the other half of the people in jail.

There will always be reasons to have jails, there are people out there that just plain can't exist in our society without inflicting violence on others, and they need to be locked up. But there is absolutely no sense in spending the money on prosecuting what is essentially a victimless crime that could be reduced much more effectively if the same money is spent on education and treatment, not locking up people next to violent criminals that educate them in something other than what society expects of them, creating a vicious cycle of escalation and re-incarceration. Authorities would have us believe that Marijuana is a gateway drug, that leads to harder drugs and violent crime -- and it may be for some people. Being locked up with violent offenders is also a gateway -- a gateway to committing violent crimes when they get out. You learn what you are exposed to... good, bad, or indifferent.

In 2007, the State of Washington spent $7.5 million to arrest, charge and process 11,553 pot possession cases. That is $689 taxpayer dollars spent per arrest, which doesn't include the costs to jail offenders if they choose not to, or can't afford to pay the fine. Washington is now debating decriminalization of possession of less than one ounce, which would make it the 14th state in the US to pass such a law. They have a 6 billion dollar shortfall in their state budget, and someone finally ran the numbers to see how much it was costing the state to round up pot heads. Seems that some members of the Legislature think that the $7.5 million plus could be better spent elsewhere.

Rational thought in a legislature? What is that?

We have schools falling apart on top of our children in South Carolina, with supposedly no money to fix them -- but we always seem to find the money to build a new prison.


Build better schools, provide a better education, and then you don't have to build as many prisons.

Prisoners don't pay income tax. Educated workers do. The more educated, the more they pay.

Sorry about the off-Phelps rant, but like I said, this incident is just a symptom of Law Enforcement's over-zealous attitude toward arresting everyone and letting the courts sort it out, at the expense of the taxpayer... enough already.

Thanks for staying focused on what really affects us -- college kids with bongs. Not crackheads with guns.

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