Four or five summers ago, a county sheriff just north of us called a news conference to display the fruits of the weekend labors of a gaggle of deputies and a passel of Army National Guard troops whose CO apparently happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were going on, but it was before the huge buildup that made ANG troops pretty scarce around the home-front. The sheriff displayed proudly to the media a table laden with about 50 marijuana plants, which under his personal direction the "task force" had located and hauled back to the cop shop.
It was transparently obvious that the booty was what's commonly called "ditch weed" in this neck of the woods. The troops had been deployed around the county over the weekend to help rid the county of the scourge of killer weed. The stuff they brought back had a street value of about ten bucks, aggregate. Ditch weed, as smokers quickly learn, gives you more of a headache than a high. But, it was a nice weekend; not too humid and pleasantly warm, so no doubt they enjoyed the scenery and the exercise. Probably unknowlingly passed more than a few meth labs in their travels, but as usual, I digress.
The sheriff told the media that what we had here was a whole mess of - and I quote - "highly addictive and extremely dangerous marijuana". Ever since that weekend, I'd find a reason about once a week to write a news story that involved marijuana in one way or another, and I'd always include the descriptor "highly addictive and extremely dangerous". Madison decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana decades ago, and the city in general has a pretty casual attitude about it. That attitude probably existed long before the "third coast" days of the 60's on the UW campus, and well before the ordinance was written. It wasn't too long before one of the talk show hosts in the building appended "a gateway drug, which almost always leads to heroin addiction and death" to the original line.
Comes now the story of Michael Phelps, the swimming phenom who won all the gold medals in the Beijing Olympics. Back in November, at some house party on a campus in North Carolina, somebody took a picture of Phelps taking a hit from a bong. It's all over the news this morning - front page of the sports section of the local morning paper; big story on the Today Show about how Phelps has admitted the mistake, and called it the equivalent of a youthful indiscretion (he's 23; it happened when he was 22). Apologized and said it wouldn't happen again. After all, you can't hawk Wheaties if you're a known stoner, and being a spokesperson for the rollling paper and bong industry isn't anywhere near as lucrative as his present endorsements.
We're apparently at the point in Presidential politics that once-stunning revelations about college-age drug use are just a blip on the radar now, but if you want to do national endorsements for huge corporations, you'd better back away from the bong. And, you'd better be careful about the photos you post on your Facebook or MySpace page. I'm still left wondering why it took three months for that photo to "surface" in the tabloids.