David Harsanyi

It's true. Recreational drug use has the ability to produce a number of ghastly consequences -- including, but not limited to, becoming president, the governor of Alaska, a Supreme Court justice, a member of the New York Knicks or a fan of "classic" rock.

This week, the media, in sober tones, were obsessing over a shocking national event: A 23-year-old single jock allegedly was caught smoking pot at a college dorm party in South Carolina. Horror.

In reality, the most startling aspect of the Michael Phelps picture incident is that we produced an Olympic superstar dumb enough to place his gargantuan paws around a bong in full view of dozens of partygoers equipped with phone cameras.

Let's concede, then, that pot isn't for everyone and that the famed swimmer may want to be a bit more vigilant in preserving his brain cells. But that's another story.

If you did not recoil in horror when you heard the Phelps non-story or you ignored the moralizing discussions centered on the long-running fairy tale of marijuana's tragic effects, you're not alone. The question is: Why haven't public attitudes translated into public policy?

Every celebrity-does-pot incident is a good reminder. Our antiquated drug laws, commonly referred to as the "war on drugs," waste billions of dollars, create millions of needless criminal records, put thousands of nonviolent criminals in prison, deny the sick medicine, and involve this nation in needless foreign entanglements, all the while robbing free citizens of the right to choose.

The late conservative icon William F. Buckley (who once sailed to international waters to smoke up) said, "Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could."

And during his Senate run in 2004, Barack Obama endorsed the idea of drug reform and tepid decriminalization, though he since has pulled back from that position. It's too bad because the new president has a genuine opportunity to bring some common sense to sentencing and more federal deference to states and cities that choose to decriminalize, as many have.

As for the present, Phelps surrendered to public pressure and offered a mushy, stonerish apology. Something about engaging in behavior that "was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment." (Phelps only has won 14 gold medals. Slacker.)

David Harsanyi

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of "The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy." Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.