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February 4, 2009

Is golden boy Michael Phelps going to be charged with a state drug crime?

Michaelphelps_bush This latest news from South Carolina suggests that criminal justice authorities are seriously working up criminal charges against record-breaking Olympian Michael Phelps:

Olympic superstar Michael Phelps could face criminal charges as part of the fallout from a photo that surfaced showing the swimmer smoking from a marijuana pipe at a University of South Carolina house party. Mike & Mike in the Morning

A spokesman for Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who is known for his tough stance on drugs, said Tuesday the department was investigating. "Our narcotics division is reviewing the information that we have, and they're investigating what charges, if any, will be filed," said Lt. Chris Cowan, a spokesman for the agency....

"The bottom line is, if he broke the law, and he did it in Richland County, he's going to be charged," Cowan said. "And there's no difference between Michael Phelps and several other people that we arrest for the same type of a charge everyday."

Under South Carolina law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $200 and 30 days in jail for the first offense.  Possession of paraphernalia is a $500 fine.

The Richland County sheriff has long sought to fight drug crimes. He rose from patrol officer to captain of the narcotics division in the early 1990s, after the television series "Miami Vice" made its splash. Lott played the part well. He wore stylish suits and had long hair then. He drove a Porsche seized from a drug dealer and even worked undercover with federal agents in Florida.

February 4, 2009 at 07:19 AM | Permalink


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"The Richland County sheriff has long sought to fight drug crimes." What a joke. One of the greatest Olympic athletes of our time wants to take a bong hit and some guy who had the audacity to drive a Porsche bought with drug money wants to charge him? The US is such a prude.


Posted by: Stoner | Feb 4, 2009 9:16:22 AM

It sounds like this two-bit Barney Fife is an attention whore.

So now, hopefully, we'll get the name of the shooter/cameraman who started this mess. They should be charged as well.

Posted by: babalu | Feb 4, 2009 9:32:50 AM

If Phelps wasn't complying with local laws, then he should be punished accordingly. Being famous shouldn't make anyone exempt from obeying laws. I also think the kid who took the photo and posted it online should somehow be punished. People are so attention hungry these days.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 4, 2009 10:04:47 AM

It sounds like this two-bit Barney Fife is an attention whore.

That certainly seems to be the impression the writers were going for.

On the Porsche thing, I remember when I was in high school, it was popular for the D.A.R.E. program to take fancy cars seized from drug dealers, and paint the D.A.R.E. logo on it along with something like "this vehicle was seized from a drug dealer." The message they apparently hoped to convey was that if you deal drugs, the police can take your stuff away. My recollection is that the actual message lots of people took away was that drug dealers make a lot of money and drive fancy cars, which sounded great even if it came with a nontrivial risk that the car would get seized and painted to be a D.A.R.E.-mobile at some point.

Rather than parading trophies like that around, perhaps the police should have found some way to pass on the message that one chapter of Freakonomics explains, which is that drug dealing is not at all lucrative for the vast majority of dealers... it's more analogous to working at Taco Bell but illegal and with greater risk of getting killed.

Posted by: ab | Feb 4, 2009 10:37:43 AM

He'll pay a fine and do some community service.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 4, 2009 11:38:07 AM

He should get nothing more than a hearty "well done" and asked if he wants a hit off of this.

Posted by: Mark | Feb 4, 2009 12:06:39 PM

Perhaps those in favor of legalization/decriminalization are going about this the wrong way. I suspect that weekly raids in Ivy League and prep schools combined with ruthless enforcement of the most insignificant drug laws (ever taken one of your wife's percocets?) against the rich and famous and political, might just be what is necessary for garnering support for real change in drug policy. I think it is time for a real zero tolerance policy on violations of drug law - for everybody. None of these namby-pamby diversion programs either! Send little Buffy to jail for a few weeks. We'll see what daddy has to say about decriminalization in the next election cycle. (Probably that we need tougher sanctions on dealers b/c his baby would have never smoked pot if it hadn't been for that evil pusher!)

If nothing else, it would result in nice fees for lawyers and much needed court costs paid by people who can actually afford them.

Posted by: Talitha | Feb 4, 2009 12:12:13 PM

He should have done this in Los Angeles. They're basically on the honor system for celebrity DUIs, so it's hard to imagine that they'd even bat an eye over this.

Posted by: ab | Feb 4, 2009 12:41:24 PM

What would the charge be, taking a bong hit?

I honestly don't think they will bring any charges. This is not the "hill" the sheriff wants to die on. It is nether smart nor fair to bring charges, since they don't go after other weekend visitors who may have done the same thing. Is the sheriff going to use limited resources to track down witnesses, etc. or does he consider the apology as an admission that will hold up in court. The picture is proof of nothing.

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